A mom just bought a toy for her 2-year-old that signals to pedophiles that the girl is ready to be traded for sex.
I'd repeat it, but it still wouldn't make any sense. And yet, this modern day myth has just gone viral. It's everywhere from CNN to AOL and local media, and of course it's all over Facebook. One mom online lamented, "I did not know that Pedophiles have their own insidious silent language that is infiltrating society through pretty pink images... which signal to other pedophiles the child can be traded."
Do we really live in that kind of hell for kids?
The story — such as it is — involves a Florida mom who bought a pink plush truck for her daughter at a monster truck rally down there. Somehow (the original WFLA-TV reporter never tells us how), the mom came to believe that the heart-within-a-heart logo on the toy is a code pedophiles use.
I should mention that that the heart-within-a-heart logo is also the logo you see on Good Humor bars. It's what you see when your barista has mastered the art of making a heart in your cappuccino foam.
And yet, using a garbled mishmash of horror and hysteria, the TV reporter told viewers that because of that heart logo, the toy "held a sick secret; a disgusting calling card for creeps." And now, "When a pedophile sees children with the heart symbol, it's a code meaning that child is ready to be traded for sex."
While presenting zero evidence that the world works like this, the reporter then interviewed the distraught mom, who cried, "I'm absolutely sick! This is pink! This is for little girls, especially at a predominantly male event."
So ... does the mom think the "male event" deliberately stocked up on pink toys that so that unwitting parents would buy them? And that predators would see the symbol, and go, "Look! A heart on a toy. This mom must be willing to sell her child into sex slavery!"?
I can't stop marveling at this "news" story, because it shows that we are so obsessed with the fear of predators — or at least news editors are so obsessed with feeding us these stories — that we never even stop to say, "Wait ... what?"
For a dose of actual facts, I dropped a line to David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. "I can't reassure you that there isn't some lonely pedophile club somewhere that has decided to make a logo," he wrote back. And it's true, there was once one lone government file, written about 10 years ago (and played up in an episode of Law & Order SVU, of course) that suggested pedophiles might wear logos that indicated their leanings. "But," Finkelhor added, "what is certainly true is that pedophiles would not simply decide to pick a victim based on carrying an item with a logo. No one should worry about the logo being dangerous for their kids."
But that's the problem.
We are worried all the time about this least likely of crimes: stranger danger. This fear haunts us even though our crime rate is the lowest it's been in decades. It haunts us even though we know that the vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by strangers, but trusted adults.
When stories like this fan the flames of predator panic, we get a population ever more obsessed with sex offenders, ever more demanding of police protection, and ever more convinced that their kids are in constant danger, even from a plush toy.
Here's the real news. They're not.