Ready for a ridiculous kidnapping false alarm news story? The city of Brighton, England, went into a panic when a witness told police of a possible child abduction at the shopping center. According to the Daily Mirror, "witnesses" saw a man squatting down to talk to a little girl. Shortly after, he took her by the hand and led her off.
Police, assuming the worst, leapt into action. They started door-to-door inquiries and searched cars leaving the shopping center. They even called out helicopters to join the search. News and social media coverage blanketed the airwaves with photos like the one above.
After seven hours of this, a man contacted police after seeing the news story. He was man in the video— the little girl was his three-year-old daughter. "He told them she had been reluctant to go home at the time," reports the Daily Mirror. Officers quickly confirmed the story, finding the little girl safe and sound at home with her family.
A false alarm news story like this is dangerous.
Some reading a false alarm news story like this one may say it's better to be "safe than sorry." But leaping to an extremely unlikely conclusion from an extremely normal event— an adult with a child— not being "safe." It is being hysterical. It is filling in the blanks of, "Gee, I wonder what's going on," with, "HORROR! PERVERSION! PREDATOR! KIDNAPPING!" as if that's a likely scenario unfolding in plain view, in the afternoon, at a place where parents and kids normally go (and then leave from) together.
Frank Furedi, author of How Fear Works, shared this story with us. In his book, he writes, "A majority of people asked to give their interpretation of a photo of a man cuddling a child responded by stating that this was the picture of a pedolphile instead of that of a loving father."
Can we agree that something is wrong when we leap to the worst possible conclusion upon seeing something that is actually nice? In an email Furedi added that now, "Some fathers told me that they think and look around before they kiss their kids in public. Society is all too ready to interpret the most innocent of gestures as a prelude to abusing a child."
It's time to push the reset button.
If you see an adult with a child in plain daylight, it is not irresponsible to assume they are caregiver and child. Remember the stat from David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. He has heard of NO CASE of a child kidnapped from its parents in public and sold into sex trafficking.
We are wired to see "Taken" when we're actually witnessing something far less exciting called Everyday Life. Let's tune in to reality.