By now, you’ve probably seen the stranger danger video making the rounds on a social network near you.
You know the one: A youngish guy conducts an “experiment” at a local playground (somewhere in Long Island, judging by the thick New York accents) with a cute little puppy in tow. He asks an assortment of watchful mothers sitting on nearby benches if they’ve schooled their kids about not talking to strangers. Every mom filmed that day replies “of course” before allowing him to approach their kids on the swings or the slide. They fully expect their children to come running back to the safety of their loving arms the moment he opens his mouth. Then they observe him from a safe distance, truly shocked as he easily leads away their kids—every single one of them—hand-in-hand, to go check out “his other puppies.”
The video is indeed an eye-opener. And there’s no need to fully undermine the message, which is how trusting kids are, and how easily they can be manipulated. It’s a reminder and a wakeup call.
However, as moms freak out on Facebook left and right, and text each other horrified rants after watching this video, it’s vital to remember this important fact: A child is far more likely to be abducted by someone he or she knows than he or she is to be taken by a stranger, which is what the video purports to be about—stranger abduction.
Joey Salads, the man who made the video (whose regular shtick is creating and posting extreme prank videos) uploaded it on May 2. He announced dramatically at its conclusion: “Over 700 children are abducted a day. That’s more than a quarter a million [sic] per year.”
Salads fails to cite his sources. When pressed by the BBC, he confessed he was confused by the many statistics he found online, and he wasn’t speaking solely about the United States. Then he added he never imagined so many parents would see his video, so he didn’t think much about fact-checking his numbers.
The true figures on child abductions, especially stranger abductions, are much lower—and nuanced.
Here are the facts, culled from The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children:
About 100 children are abducted and murdered in the United States each year. Tragic and awful to consider, yes. But not even close to 700 abductions per day.
Considering there were 466,949 entries for missing children under the age of 18 into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center in 2014, the rate of true stranger-danger abductions is very, very, very low.
The vast majority of child abductions occur at the hands of a spouse or boyfriend, family friend, relative, or acquaintance, with a child recovery rate of 97 percent.
We’ll give Joey Salads the benefit of the doubt—up to a point. He thought he was doing a good deed with his puppy prank. Ultimately, we might even consider showing his video to our preschool and elementary school children as a reminder, posing the question to our kids: “Would you ever walk away with a man with a puppy?” And then telling them in a gentle way why they should never, ever do so. Seeing the video might be a teaching tool to put kids on guard—especially if some weirdo out there uses this idea in copycat fashion, which, given the nature of these strangely digital times, could happen.
Still, parents might also consider Salads as a bit of a weirdo himself. He’s the guy, after all, who terrified a few local parents and their children—alarming a few million more online in the process—in his quest for Internet fame, someone who couldn’t bother doing even a few minutes of research first before pressing “upload.”