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The client whose child is uniquely attractive to pedophiles

I and other attorneys I know are now having cases in which one parent complains about the other parent posting photographs of the child to facebook or other social networking sites.  These aren’t photos of the child doing something embarrassing, immoral, or illegal, but merely photos of the child doing activities that make the posting-parent proud or photos of the child and posting-parent sharing an enjoyable experience.

The objecting parents’ complaints are unvarying: some pedophile could find the photograph online and decide that this is the child that he (pedophiles are almost always men) is compelled to molest.  I have not yet heard of a single instance of a pedophile finding his child victim from a parent’s posting on a social networking site (as opposed to the pedophile finding the child online directly).  However, given enough children, enough pedophiles, and enough social networking internet sites, I am sure it is only a matter of time before some pedophile locates some child victim from that child’s parent’s social networking site [given enough time practically any unlikely but possible event will eventually occur].  When that day happens, expect it to become an around-the-clock story on cable news and expect overloaded dockets in the family court as overprotective parents seek to require the other parent to remove anything about their child from social networking sites.

Our culture has lost the ability to distinguish rare but likely events from rare and exceedingly unlikely events.  I suspect few parents can really distinguish a one-in-a-thousand chance event from a one-in-a-million chance event.  But these probabilities (very approximately) differentiate the likelihood of a child getting cancer from second hand smoke in the home or getting injured while being transported by an intoxicated driver from the probability that a child will killed in a terrorist plot or be kidnaped by a pedophile.  It’s the difference between the family court remaining vigilant over parents using seat belts for their children (which saves hundreds, and possibly thousands, of lives each year) and making failure to properly use child safety seats a factor in custody cases (the studies I have read are inconclusive on whether such seats save any lives).  Meanwhile many in our culture spend as much energy, and incur even greater angst, preventing the latter events as they do preventing the much more likely and easier-to-prevent former events.  Because of this, the freedom to explore our surroundings that most of us born between 1950 and 1975 considered a normal part of our childhood is being denied to young children today.  In seeking to prevent the exceedingly unlikely we forget, or ignore, the loss that creating a more suspicious and fearful culture engenders.

There are a lot of parents out there convinced that their child is uniquely attractive to pedophiles.  I believe our culture makes a mistake by indulging these parents their delusion.

  • Warren Moise

    A voice of reason.

  • The title got me as I’m sure you can imagine given our spirited discussions in the past. Very good article.

  • I have been involved in a case where the Family Court ordered the pictures to removed from the social website.

    • MJ–

      Why did the requesting party seek this relief and what was the court’s reasoning in granting that request?

      • It was a situation where both natural parents were unfit. Paternal grandparents got custody. One of them was a retired police detective. He got all the pictures off the mother’s my space page. Some of them (of the mom) were racy. Not naked, just a little revealing. Some of her posts were not in the best taste. The pictures of the kids were just mixed in with the rest. He had his attorney make the argument that her lifestyle (as shown in the pictures) might attract pedophiles to the two little girls (ages 4 and 5). The Judge bought it and she was ordered to remove the pictures. Then there was a continuing battle about her putting new pictures on the site. It was a mess.

  • California observer

    It’s worse than that: not only does hyper-vigilance impoverish our culture at large, it damages the child herself. There might indeed be a one-in-a-million chance that the photo leads to a (bad) kidnapping, but there is a one-in-two chance the photo leads to a call from Grandma, an appreciative smile from Daddy, or an invitation to a birthday party. That’s WHY parents post family pictures where friends can see them… to tighten social bonds and mesh the family and friends.

    The statistics of benefit vs. harm are just like those of contagious disease. Yes, you can protect your kid from meningitis and SARS (and pedophilia!) by wrapping her in a bubble and keeping her inside all day….and if we weren’t already aware of the costs of such a draconian approach, far more parents would be doing it.

    The idea that we should take all possible protections against any *possible* danger is not only truly insane, but is almost certainly inconsistent with the actual behavior of the parent doing the complaining. Unless that parent homeschools, disinfects, and dresses his kid in a burqua, that parent *already* exposes the kid to more potential danger than any ordinary Facebook posting would. Life has risks; get used to it. Smart parents understand that tradeoff, and make the best decisions they can; dumb parents, especially those whose clueless anger bring their dispute into the court system, should have their argument evaluated by a rational cost/benefit comparison rather than by a fantastical worst-case scenario.

    Please, please, please tell me the law will be on the right side of this issue.

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