The Struggle With Stranger Danger
Looking back, I can now say that I am super grateful for my protective parents. I used to be annoyed when my parents kept asking me to recite our address or emergency phone numbers, but now I understand that they were just looking after me. They also checked in and asked my brother and me to reenact what we had practiced with our guidance counselor at school. We showed how we practiced saying “no” to the people offering candy or asking for help looking for a lost dog. If we didn’t know the person, we were taught to stay away from them. We were also instructed to tell our parents about any strange people that tried talking to us. The problem with this is that we were never taught how to say “no” to people that we love and trust. It was always assumed that the dangerous individuals would be outsiders, but the reality is that we need to shift our focus from strangers to people we already trust.
Growing up, I was convinced I needed to worry about random people approaching me, but what I’ve since learned is that only 28% of perpetrators of sexual assault are actually strangers, and the “Romeo Pimp” is much more common today in cases of human trafficking than the “Guerilla pimp.” Sometime it is the ones we love that we need to stand up against.
Within the 72% of sexual assault cases where the perpetrator was someone the victim knew, 25% were previous spouses or significant others. This means that one-fourth of the survivors were betrayed by someone that they had previous romantic relations with, and the remaining 45% were trusted acquaintances. It can be so much harder to recognize abusive behavior in those that we love and trust, and it can be that much harder to seek help when we do recognize it. If the people that we feel comfortable reaching out to know our abuser, it could be nearly impossible to open up to them.
This has become so common that human traffickers have picked up on it. Rather than relying on violence and abduction as initial tactics for “recruiting” targets, they rely on mental manipulation. These pimps act as caring individuals interested in the victim’s well-being.
They are named “Romeo” for this reason: “It begins with the boyfriend stage: romantic dates, the illusion of love and the promise of a future, complete with a house they would own together. Then it’s the grooming, the gifts and the hints about how much money she could make working in the sex trade.” While this might seem like an obvious trap, a previous “Romeo” pimp explained that after convincing the girls of a future with a big wedding and a nice house, he would point out that he was putting in his half and it was time she put in hers. He said, “So, there’s another way - you can have sex with guys, but don’t worry, I’m going to love you. At the end of the night you’re home with me.”
How could you turn down someone who has provided for you, cared for you and is dreaming about a future with you? We know to say “no” to people we don’t know, but how do we say “no” to people who we think are our soulmates?
While making sure kids are aware of the dangers of unknown people, we need to shift our focus so that we raise individuals who are also able to confront those that they trust. No matter if it’s a family member, significant other, or ex, we need to create a community where people are able to stop manipulative behavior before it starts and be comfortable reaching out for help. We can do this by genuinely asking those around us how things are going and by believing them when they open up to us. We can talk more about healthy relationships and when to recognize when things take a turn for the worst. We can educate others on stranger danger and not-so-stranger danger. This could eliminate the manipulation that has hurt so many while also offering more support to those who might otherwise be too scared to speak out. We can greatly decrease future manipulation, and eventually eradicate it, if we increase our proactive measures.
We can make a difference.
About the Author
Ali Pollard is a winter gal at heart who loves trying new things and traveling to new places. When she's not finishing her homework or consuming absurd amounts of coffee, she loves skiing and playing the saxophone. Ali is hoping to turn her passion for human rights into a career as she studies the sociology of law, criminology, and deviance (yes, that's all one major!) and political science at the University of Minnesota.