August 24, 2007

Unintended consequences: Is predator hysteria fueling phobia of men?

The current climate of fear of sexual predators may be targeting an innocent bystander – the proverbial man on the street.

While most sexual predators are male, the converse is not true: Very few men are sexual predators. Yet, the predator panic is causing many men to fear involvement with children, creating a shortage of male teachers and youth group leaders that may have long-term negative consequences to society.

Now, an interesting column by Jeff Zaslow in the Aug. 23 Wall Street Journal is alerting the businessman on the street to this unintended consequence.

Here is an excerpt:

"When children get lost in a mall, they're supposed to find a 'low-risk adult' to help them. Guidelines issued by police departments and child-safety groups often encourage them to look for 'a pregnant woman,' 'a mother pushing a stroller' or 'a grandmother.'

"The implied message: Men, even dads pushing strollers, are 'high-risk.'

"Are we teaching children that men are out to hurt them? The answer, on many fronts, is yes. Child advocate John Walsh advises parents to never hire a male babysitter. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers rather than male passengers. Soccer leagues are telling male coaches not to touch players.

"Child-welfare groups say these are necessary precautions, given that most predators are male. But fathers' rights activists and educators now argue that an inflated predator panic is damaging men's relationships with kids. Some men are opting not to get involved with children at all, which partly explains why many youth groups can't find male leaders, and why just 9% of elementary-school teachers are male, down from 18% in 1981….

"TV shows, including the Dateline NBC series 'To Catch a Predator,' hype stories about male abusers. Now social-service agencies are also using controversial tactics to spread the word about abuse. This summer, Virginia's Department of Health mounted an ad campaign for its sex-abuse hotline. Billboards featured photos of a man holding a child's hand. The caption: 'It doesn't feel right when I see them together.'

"More than 200 men emailed complaints about the campaign to the health department. 'The implication is that if you see a man holding a girl's hand, he's probably a predator,' says Marc Rudov, who runs the fathers' rights site "In other words, if you see a father out with his daughter, call the police."
The story continues at the Wall Street Journal’s online site (regrettably, a subscription is required).

Photo credit: kandyjaxx (Creative Commons license)