There wasn’t much parents had to worry about when I grew up in a small Norwegian town in the 1970’s. I lived in a low rise just outside a large park and most of the children were runing wild in the forest and hills all day. Personally I barely had time to come home for dinner. There were too many football matches that needed to be played, trouts and tadpoles that needed to be caught, trees that needed to be climbed, cowboys and indians that needed a war etc.
I got a warning some years later telling me that maybe the world wasn’t that safe after all. I spent a lot of time alone, and one time I was riding my bicycle through another popular park in my hometown (Haraldsvang), an older man tried to stop me. This was probably on a Sunday because I remember there were a lot of people walking in the park that day. The man asked me if I wanted to come with him into the forest to have a chat. I was about 14 years old then. I hardly think he wanted to isolate a lonely child so that he could have an interesting conversation. I believe that tells you what kind of intentions he had.
I am glad I had the sense to keep moving. I was probably sceptical to the fact that this chat had to take place in the forest, away from people. He couldn’t do anything in public as long as I refused to come willingly. I don’t know if the world has ever been safe enough for you to let your children run anywhere alone. It might have been in small town Norway 30 years ago, but not today. There have always been pedophiles or sexual predators. Much like predators in nature they single out a weak prey which they isolate and trap.
Many children walk alone to their after school activities. I have a 10 year old myself that understandably wants to do what her friends do. She is disappointed when I won’t let her go alone to the grocery store about a mile from our house, to the scout meeting or some other activity. I had started thinking that maybe I had been too strict and that I should start letting her do more on her own. I witnessed something last week that had me seriously concerned, however.
I walked with my daughter to one of her activities, and I let her play on a fenced playground outside a church as we were early. There were several other children there, some of them toghether with parents and some alone. A man walking a poodle, the smallest one I’ve ever seen (about the size of a kitten), came inside this fenced area and sat down. It didn’t appear that he had any business there. He clearly didnt know anyone and looked like he didn’t belong there. The other children started leaving as the meeting was about to start.
Then my daughter discovered the dog and she walked over to where this man was sitting. He tried talking to her, but she ignored him. She was only interested in the dog. She is usually a little afraid of them, but this was tiny, and perfect to attract children. Then I told her it was time to go inside and she was reluctant to leave. If I had not walked with her and made sure the scout leader welcomed her, she would have left. She wanted to turn around and I am sure she was still thinking about the dog.
This gave me an uncomfortable association to the man in Haraldsvang many years ago. This is not pleasant to think about, and I might make the mistake of suspecting people that are innocent, but this is a tragic fact of life. It’s not my job to hope for the best, so I am going to continue being alert and sceptical.
There are abusers everywhere in society. They are like predators that take advantage of the situation if they can isolate a child. I don’t want families to live in fear, but I encourage parents to be more careful and to talk to their children about the dangers. Many children walk alone to their afternoon activities, and some are dropped off at the parking lot. What I am suggesting is far from being a desirable situation, but I think it’s necessary.