Stranger danger is the danger to children presented by strangers. The phrase stranger danger is intended to sum up the danger associated with adults whom children do not know. The phrase has found widespread usage and many children will hear it (or similar advice) during their childhood lives. Many books, films and public service announcements have been devoted to helping children remember this advice. The concept has been criticized for ignoring the fact that most child abductions and harm result not from strangers, but rather from someone the child knows.
Although there are other dangers such as kidnapping for ransom, the main threat with which stranger danger campaigns are concerned is sexual abuse. In recent years, the emphasis of such campaigns has shifted somewhat, in order to reflect the risk of abuse by persons known to the child. Common phrases children will hear include:
- Don't talk to strangers
- Don't walk with strangers
- Don't accept gifts from strangers
- Don't accept food or drinks from strangers
- Don't accept candy or sweets from strangers
- Don't talk to strangers when they ask for directions, ask you to pet their puppy or tell you a parent is injured or in an accident
- If ever approached by a stranger, tell a parent or an adult who you trust
- Don't get into a car with strangers
- If you are approached by a stranger near your school, immediately return to your school and tell a staff member
- Don't communicate with strangers using text messages on cellular phones. If strangers attempt to contact you using text messages on cellular phones, tell the police, a parent, or an adult that you can trust.
- Don't communicate with strangers using e-mail on the computer. If strangers attempt to contact you using e-mail on the computer, tell the police, a parent, or an adult that you can trust.
Some proponents of stranger danger propose telling children that it is safe to talk to strangers in situations where the child is in danger, such as if the child is lost or injured. In such situations, avoiding potentially helpful strangers could, itself, be dangerous. Conversely, other proponents of stranger danger warnings propose teaching children never to approach others without parental permission. This admonishment extends to not entering a car, even if the child recognizes the driver.
In addition to stranger danger warnings, programs from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, local law enforcement agencies and other organizations offer free fingerprinting services usually done in schools, child care centers, shopping malls, fairs, and festivals. Parents/guardians are provided with child identification sheets to use in cases of child abduction and other emergencies. Child identification sheets include the child's fingerprints, photo and other personal data. Neither the FBI nor any other law enforcement agency retains this information. DNA samples are also provided to parents.
In the wake of the murder of Leiby Kletzky, New York City Councilman David Greenfield has said he would propose “Leiby’s Law,” a bill under which businesses could volunteer to be designated as safe places for children who are lost or otherwise in trouble. Employees would undergo background checks and business owners would put a green sticker in their store windows so children would know the business is a safe place to get help. On August 16, 2011, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office announced a similar program called “Safe Stop”. As of August, 2011, 76 stores had signed up to display a green “Safe Haven” sticker in their windows to help lost children.
Constantly warning children of possible danger in the form of strangers has also been criticised as exaggerating the potential threat and unnecessarily spreading mistrust, especially when considering that (for example) in the US, about 800,000 children are reported at least temporarily missing every year, yet only 115 "become victims of what is viewed as classic stranger abductions". In situations where the child is in danger for other reasons, avoiding strangers (who might help) could in fact be dangerous itself, such as in the case of an 11-year-old Boy Scout who avoided rescue searchers because he feared they might want to 'steal him'.
According to the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, stranger danger evokes more fear than abusers known to the child. This is because we have to operate on the basis of trust and reciprocity with acquaintances and it's hard to view acquaintances as threatening or fear them.
The father who rapes his daughter down the street generates outrage, but not the kind of fear as the stranger who rapes a girl in the neighborhood park.
- BBC News: Abusers targeted in new campaign (June 5, 2002) Latest retrieval November 7, 2009.
- Say NO!: Protecting Children Against Sexual Abuse
- NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION: SEX OFFENDER NOTIFICATION
- Case Management for Missing Children Homicide Investigation - McKenna, Rob; Attorney General of Washington & U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. May 2006.
- FBI Community Outreach
- Headline News Digital Fingerprinting TV spot 2010
- Fingerprinting event focuses on safety
- "'Leiby's Law' would provide safe places for children who are lost or in trouble". NY Daily News. July 21, 2011. Retrieved July 21, 2011.
- Rizzo, Lillian (August 17, 2011). "Storeowners post ‘Safe Stop’ signs on windows to help lost kids". New York Daily News. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
- Does 'stranger danger' go too far? - MSNBC, Transcript, ET June 23, 2005
- Welcome to the Crimes Against Children Research Center
- "Juvenoia". The Advocate.
- Outside Agitators by Bill O'Driscoll, Pittsburgh City Paper
- British Public Service film from 1973
- Child Lures Prevention - Program for teaching children personal safety. Includes lesson on "The Truth about Strangers." [age appropriate]
- People Smarts for Parents from Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) - Educational information for the community. Has a variety of free publications.
- The Kid's Safe Canada Network - Free information on street proofing your children. Seminars available.
- Nolan, J., Raynes-Goldie, K., and McBride, M. (2011). The Stranger Danger: Exploring Surveillance, Autonomy, and Privacy in Children’s Use of Social Media. Canadian Children Journal. (36)2, 24-32.