There's been some "security issues" at a school just down the street from ours, and a warning was sent out to parents about keeping an eye out for suspicious behaviour. As you can imagine, the community got talking and within days I had about three stories to choose from. All involved a man, a car and a proposition to a child.
The little travellers have been warned many times about not getting in to cars with strangers, but I thought I'd better return to the conversation. I'd always felt reasonably confident that they wouldn't get in to a car with a stranger, but a couple of minutes in to the conversation, I now wasn't entirely convinced.
As we drove to school we talked about things a stranger in a car might say to you to get your attention. I began with "he/she may offer you sweets". In my rear vision mirror I saw the second and fourth little traveller's ears prick up, the chocoholics of the family were instantly interested in exactly what sort of lollies might be on offer. I moved on "another thing they may say is that I sent them to pick you up" suddenly the first little traveller could see how it could happen. In her self appointed role as deputy mother she reminded everyone about the family password. I hadn't heard a word from the third little traveller, I looked in the mirror and said "They may try and make you feel sorry for them, they might tell you they've lost a pet or need help".
He couldn't see how any of this applied to him. It wasn't getting through. I went for the jugular.
"They may tell you they have a playstation or Xbox at their house" He immediately became interested. We don't have either an Xbox or a Playstation and because of this the third little traveller feels he's playing the role of a deprived young child in a Dickens novel. We are ruining his life.
"Exactly what would the person do to us?" His brain was ticking over. I could see him weighing up his options - asking himself if it was worth getting in the car? I mean how bad could this place be if it had an Xbox or a Playstation?
And that's when I decided to tell them.
In that moment I could see that I needed to go further. They didn't get it.
I told them about the man I once worked with, the man who I believed was a really lovely man. A man I went to the pub and had beers with. A man who would then spend his weekends convincing children to get in the car with him by telling them he was a talent scout.
"Did he hurt them?"
"Yes he did, very very badly. And it took the police awhile to find him, but when they did, when they saw the videos, they were incredibly sad that he'd managed to get those children to come home with him"
No-one asked for more details and I wouldn't have given them, I could see the message had been received. There was no more contemplation of Playstations or chocolate.
And then I felt like the worst parent in the world. I felt like I'd stolen a little piece of their innocence, that I'd made them start thinking about creepy people who were out to steal them. What if I'd scared them? What if I'd really damaged them? I pictured them laying on couches in therapy, working through their distrust of strangers and having their "breakthrough moment" when they remembered the conversation they had with their mother in the car on the way to school.
This popped up in the SMH this morning;
The Sydney Morning Herald reported today that there has been a 30% jump in the numbers of Australians arrested for child pornography since 2010.
The head of the federal police's cyber-crime unit, Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan, said there might have been no increase in the number of adults sexually assaulting children but, ''we are seeing those sexual assaults being recorded, and those sexual assaults being uploaded onto the internet''.
''There's no empirical evidence of an increase in child abuse, but we're seeing an increase in the number of violent images that clearly have not been commercially made,'' he said.
There was a 30 per cent jump, from 136 to 180, in the number of Australians arrested for child pornography offences last year compared with 2010.
Mr Gaughan said: ''I think there's two schools of thought here, one that there's been a proliferation of the image-making and the image dissemination. There's also a school of thought that the reason why we're getting so many more referrals is that law enforcement and industry are working better together and we're discovering a lot more.''
I'm hoping more arrests means better police work.
In the meantime I'll return to the fine balance of parenting while I pop another few dollars in to the future therapy fund jar.
What do you think? How did you/would you warn your children about stranger danger? How much do you need to tell them?