Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Walking to School is Increasingly Rare?

When I was in grade school I remember a time or two arriving home on the school bus to our cattle ranch and finding my parents and sisters had been delayed returning from an errand to Bozeman or Idaho Falls. As instructed I would check in on the party-line. This was a telephone line shared by several families. So people would know I was home.

Two things made me recall that memory. One, a conversation with my Mother, subsequent to the rescue of a person who had been abducted when she was only slightly older than I had been. Two, an article in the Sunday NYT’s entitled “Why Can’t She Walk To School?”

My Mom was certain that today, she would not let me come home alone like I did because the world is a much more dangerous place. I said, Mom, I believe studies of crime statistics have shown that child abductions by strangers are extremely rare. Most are committed by family members or individuals known to the family.

You can’t blame people for being paranoid though. The combination of popular crime dramas on television coupled with the insatiable appetite of 24/7 news for the sensational amplifies everything. Throw in social media and the Internet’s ability to fuel ideas and notions around the planet (more often than not without perspective or context) and voila…kids today have a fraction of the creative playtime they had a few decades ago and almost no time outdoors.

In analyzing statistics about crime and trying to make sense of public opinion polls about people feeling safe, I’m aware there is little correlation between the opinions and reality.

Some say, we’ve never lived in a more safe time. I assume they mean crimes per 100,000 and in countries like the USA. But maybe they mean safe from strangers. Here is a snapshot from that Department of Justice study I was telling Mom about:
  • On average, 2,185 children under the age of 18 were reported missing each day of the study year.

  • That adds up to more than 797,500 children annually.

  • Of that total, almost that 204,000, or about 25 percent, were family abductions.

  • An estimated 58,200 were abducted by someone other than a family member.

  • Of those, 115 were taken by complete or partial strangers and kept for a period or killed.

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