While images of “dangerous strangers” are common in films and on TV, they’re actually far from reality for most cases of child abuse. Kids are certainly in danger from complete strangers: simply leaving your kids unattended in public areas is never advisable. However, the numbers don’t lie. Kids are more likely to be abused by someone close to them, family or family friends, than they are to be abused by a complete stranger.
The reasons for this are complicated, but they explain why the real danger comes from within your circle.
A random stranger who doesn’t know your child has fewer opportunities to actually hurt them. Physically kidnapping and harming a child is exceptionally rare, as it’s one of the most heinous crimes someone can commit. It’s also sure to draw attention to the criminal, as screaming children catch the attention of passersby faster than any other response to a criminal act.
This isn’t to say strangers couldn’t pose a threat to kids. Strangers have, and will, abducted children from their parents in order to abuse them. These cases are the exception, rather than the rule. However, the sheer terror the idea of a complete stranger targeting your kids brings makes that situation the one you’ll often work hardest to avoid.
However, you should be much less worried about strangers than you are about those closest to your children.
The truest threat to your kids is relatives, family friends, babysitters and other people who might be close to them. These people have the most access to your kids, and will often be alone with them. It’s much easier for a criminal to get away with their abuses if they happen behind closed doors, in areas they’re “supposed” to already be.
There are ways to mitigate this threat, of course. Teaching children about consent and what things are okay for adults to do is very difficult and awkward, to be sure. However, teaching children important lessons, like the proper names for parts of their anatomy and the types of activities that adults shouldn’t be engaging in with them, could save them from psyche-defining abuses.
An educated child is no victim. The more your kids understand the world around them, the more they’ll be prepared to defend themselves in it. While you don’t want to think of your kids needing this advice, you’d rather that they have it and not need it than need it and not have it.