Stranger Dangers: The Right’s History of Turning Child Abuse Into a Political Weapon

Source: 3/28/22

Josh Hawley’s attacks on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson are part of a long, sad tradition.

At some point between the ’80s and now, leaving children unattended in public became unthinkable. To let children as old as, say, 10 walk by themselves became grounds to investigate parents for neglect. As a child of the late ’90s and early 2000s, I knew latchkey kids existed, but nearly exclusively from the aging 1980s children’s paperbacks in my elementary school’s library. My friends whose parents worked too late to pick them up from school stayed in the building for a child care program or took a bus to the nearby Boys & Girls Club.

Statistics confirm the decline of the latchkey kid that I witnessed and that continues today. A primary reason for the change was the fear that children were constantly on the cusp of being kidnapped, abused, or taken advantage of, and thus could never be left alone.

Paul Renfro, an assistant professor of history at Florida State University, chronicled in his 2020 book Stranger Danger: Family Values, Childhood, and the American Carceral State, how such a notion became widespread in the ’80s and ’90s. Pictures of missing and abducted children were plastered on milk cartons, as media ramped up coverage of random, isolated incidents of children being abducted in ways that it hadn’t before—even as the number of children who were abducted did not substantially increase.

Critics of this moment often blame the media, who did play a part in elevating these concerns—but there’s more to the story. Their coverage played right into the hands of, and was exacerbated by, a reactionary right-wing movement that was eager to notch culture war wins by conflating the so-called “stranger danger” threat to children with pornography, underage drinking, drugs, teen pregnancy, and the like. Ancillary battles on similar moral fronts hastened a harsher “war on drugs,” and the corresponding mass incarceration policies that disproportionately hurt Black America. 

Today, the leveraging of unfounded fears that children are in unprecedented danger toward political ends is animated by QAnon and Pizzagate conspiracy theories. While these are generally too absurd for elected politicians to directly endorse—the few that have, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) have walked back—Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and most recently Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) have tried to tap into the same fear and energy QAnon has harnessed. They want to use it to push a reactionary political project—but without having to say “QAnon” out loud. 

During Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination hearings, Hawley repeatedly claimed that she had been soft on child pornography offenders, despite being accused, earlier in his own career, of displaying untoward leniency towards sexual abusers as a prosecutor and attorney general. He largely focused on Jackson’s deviations from federal sentencing guidelines in child porn cases, even though judges appointed by Trump have also deviated from the guidelines, which have been broadly and bipartisanly criticized.

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Off topic little bit, but HOW can people be allowed to have gender reassignment for minors but yet these same minors cannot consent to sex, join armed forces, drink booze, etc. etc….. ????????? Sickening people and government we live under right now….

Yeah registries and the save the children hysteria, and the war on drugs, no guns for all felons, all this seems to be self imposed annihilation of the fundamental rights of all citizens. And in the last few decades all this is being amplified and exploited by government to totally take over society and the world with this new so called world order … they are going to create. Just saying. My suit is almost done and I will post a link in general as soon as the next month general comes up.

Child abuse is no laughing matter and yes there have to be rules. Why do you think they do these sting operations, is it for probable intent, evil intent, or out of pride. While the methods can be different their is a reason even the so called Stranger Danger issue comes up. Its how far that detective goes in the con that can make all the difference. Was I lucky I didn’t have any porno on my computer or did I just drop the ball so to speak or was the situation a type of miscarriage of judgement . Guess it comes down to just how far the victim goes or how far the political view of all this.

My PO evaluated me as probable or unlikely to commit a sex offense after I was deemed Violent with my colorful words and even the detective was sort of the judge/jury’or prosecutor so to speak. So who was playing the role? Many of these registry ordeals are a bit of an evil intent in and of themself but are necessary in certain circumstances. One can even understand about much of this political confusion. When one’s sentence is over its over. Sure confinement can be a bit much in many ways.   Hey I’m just waiting to get off the registry. Most all these comments on here are like a smoking gun and the truth can be stranger than fiction. Gun rights well thats a toss up if one has a felony and I’m afraid to say law enforcement hold the key to that. Suppose a war broke out you think they would bring a sex offender out of prison to fight or a murder or one that had an evaluation as Violent or probable. Even thats a toss up question.

Hawley is such a reactionary. He brings nothing new to the table in terms of prevention. He would rather take the lazy, low-effort approach by making CP possession 5 years mandatory and the guidelines binding – which will do absolutely NOTHING to bring the numbers down of the on-line images he so fervently claims is “at an all time high.”

Once again, these election year opportunists want an easy and cheap win with this “legislative fix.” They want to look “tough” on crime with their fake outrage, but they’re more than happy to take FULL credit for something the public will think is a victory.

Wow the first sentence or so of the article
“At some point between the ’80s and now, leaving children unattended in public became unthinkable. To let children as old as, say, 10 walk by themselves became grounds to investigate parents for neglect.”

When I was 10 back in 1966 my parents would have gone to jail for sure for the simple reason of what they let me do alone. We lived in the Bronx (NY). I walked with my friends to the near by park and played all day by ourselves. I would be gone all day long with my friends going who knows where. I took public buses to my piano lessons each week. My friends and I either took the train or bus to the bowling alley by ourselves. Never had any problems at all with anyone.

My parents let me stay home alone or with another friend of mine in the apartment building we lived in (right on the Hudson River). My friend’s parents would be out with mine and we would hang out in his apartment and watch TV, feed ourselves etc and then crash in his bedroom watching TV. I can still remember watching the original series of Star Trek.

My parents trusted me to know what my limits were back then. I never had any problems being left alone. Even when we moved to the country into a house. My parents would go out for the evening and would leave me alone when I was 12. I had food in the fridge and had the telephone # of where they would be. My TV and I had good times together or my friend from down the road would come and keep me company until they got home.

I really don’t think anything has changed since 1966-1970 about crime or the dangers of leaving your kids home alone at a young age. It’s not more crime out there it is helicopter parents being fed bullsh$t from like John Walsh and his stupid organization (and his idiot son Callahan) that puts hysteria in parents minds. Stranger Danger is a bunch of crap in my book. Strangers are people you just have not met yet. Don’t shelter your kids and be open with them and they will learn better like my parents let me learn. And remember the percentage of kids that are abused etc by strangers compared to people they know well.

Last edited 1 year ago by NorthEastPA

I submit fraud is the number one type of crime perpetrated by strangers. In fact fraud is the most often perpetrated crime in America by far. Sex crimes involving physical or personal attack are far exceeded by physical attacks not involving a sexualized component. Males are 8 times more likely to suffer a physical attack and not report it to authority. Females more often report any type of attack to 911 emergency numbers than men. Reporting of false attacks to 911 however is most often committed by females.