Pictures & Predators: Turning your back on the dangers of the Internet

Family bridge 2 (1 of 1)

The pedophiles, they’re everywhere.  They’re your neighbors.  They’re your teachers.  They’re the man behind the register at the convenience store.  They’re brothers, and uncles, and friends.  Watch out for water parks, and amusement parks, and parks in general.  Stay out of pet stores.  And big box stores.  And schools, especially schools.  Even female teachers cannot be trusted.

This is how they’ll joke, poke fun at the fear fest, try their best to make you see how silly all that sounds.  Scary schools, ha!  Like, what are you going to do?  Home school on a compound in the middle of Texas forever.

Supposedly, there are fewer monsters hiding under beds and in closets than ever before.  People are better.  And nicer.  The world really isn’t a gruesome parade of baby killers and child rapists.  Good things happen.  Good people reign.  Just read all the blogs.  Visit the Pinterest boards.  There are plenty of fields of daisies to skip through, and you can even hold hands while doing so, if you want.  You can dance beneath strings of inspirational quotes and mingle under the warm light of paper lanterns, and then you can pin it.  Listen to Judd Apatow, he knows.  He will tell you what’s what on the side of Chipotle’s latest paper bag, your lime salted chips spotting the outsides with grease dapples.  He will tell you not to worry so much.  According to Judd, violent crime has been on the decline, shooting out of our solar system like a meteor, since the dark ages.  So just feel good, okay?  Just feel safe.  Because you are.  Of course you are.  And your babies and puppies are too.

Well, I don’t buy it.  And maybe that’s because of my past.  Maybe that’s because someone I was supposed to trust more than anyone in the world hurt me three decades ago, and I will never ever forget.  Healing?  What’s that?  When half of who you are is a scar, is it really even possible for the pain to fade away?  My anger glows as bright and as constant as the sun.  The clouds cover it at times, but it is always there.

Or maybe there really are more monsters than we’d like to believe.  Lurking in the dark corners of every day.

What happened at Los Angeles International Airport a week ago today has certainly made me wonder.  A strange thing,  it has been bothering me since then, nagging at my conscious like a stress headache.  I’ve been mulling it over, considering it, replaying it, trying to determine if maybe I was wrong to react the way I did.

“May I take the child’s picture?” the man asked, stepping entirely too close to me and my offspring.

I was holding baby girl, her wearing only a long sleeved onesie because of a post flight poosplosion, and my failure to include an extra outfit in her diaper bag.  I was gently rocking in a circle around our mountain of luggage, my 9-month old daughter tucked in one arm.  We lingered near the cab line, as hubby disappeared inside LAX’s baggage claim to see what in God’s name had happened to our stroller.  That entirely-too-large-to-be-traveled with jogging stroller had gotten caught in the conveyer belt and we were waiting for it to be freed, a whale tangled up in a greedy fisherman’s net.  I could almost hear it calling to us, moaning to be saved from death by black roller bags.

This man had an accent.  He was tall and dark, a tourist with a Canon around his neck, a visitor from a far off land.  He was traveling with another man.  And I instantly judged him, them.  I pictured third world countries and horrible things.  I pictured encrypted websites.  And soulless morning-after breakfasts aside polluted beaches in Thailand.

“No, you may not,” I barked, pulling my girl closer and thrusting my back toward him, them, the down coat that was too hot for LA, but perfect for Minnesota from whence we came, still on my back like a soft shell I could hide in.  Judd Apatow’s words didn’t make me feel safer in that moment, but my puffy jacket sure did.

The man slinked a few feet away.   And it was awkward for several minutes.  He and his traveling companion took entirely too long to load their bags into a Prius.  And I couldn’t go anywhere because leaving baggage unattended at any airport is frowned upon.  I kept my back to them and my baby nestled close, while I seethed, rapidly inhaling and exhaling the exhaust from a thousand passing cars.

The cab dispatcher asked me what was wrong.  I told him.

“Fucking totally weird,” he said, we were out of earshot of the traveling man. “Like what was he planning to do with the picture, show it to all his weird friends back home?”

The cab dispatcher was a young Hispanic guy, short and handsome, the perfect amount of scruff shading his olive skinned chin.  I was touched by how protective he seemed.

By that time, hubby had re-joined us, and asked the dispatcher, “What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen here at LAX?”

He didn’t skip a beat, “Probably that, oh and the time a woman peed herself in line.”

So maybe I wasn’t wrong to react like I did, but at first hubby wasn’t so sure.  We talked about culture.  We talked about how maybe Mr. Tall and Dark’s people back home might delight in seeing a baby so different from their own, mine blond and pink like a baby rabbit, theirs brown and dark eyed, cute little teacups of chocolate milk.  We talked about this testament to our child’s beauty.  How some might be flattered, not freaked out.  We talked about National Geographic magazines, their breath taking spreads of mothers and naked babies.

But this wasn’t a photo mission to Africa.  This was Los Angeles.

When we finally made it home over an hour later, I retrieved our mail from our over filled mail box, the contents oozing from it like frosting from an overstuffed cannoli.  Amongst the Bed Bath And Beyond coupons, and magazines I’ll never have a chance to read, was something I’ve been waiting for for 6-weeks.

My baby girl’s entertainment work permit.  So that strangers can do that very thing that frightens me, take her picture.

Now clearly the context of future photo shoots will be far different than impromptu snap shots outside of airport baggage claims by “weirdos.”  But I can’t help but reconsider my decision to put her out there like that.  I can’t help but think about limiting the photos I share on social media as well.  And on the site I created for her.  Or password protecting it at the very least.

By sharing our photos online are we endangering our children?  Are they more likely to be exploited on the web than they are in person, without us even realizing it?

For someone who loves social media, the sharing of glimpses into the life I’ve created for myself, spilling with true love and happiness, I don’t like the idea of self censoring.  As a writer, that’s what I do, I share.  I share pictures, words, and moments with gusto.  I’m proud of how far I’ve come, despite, and because of, those rotten spots in my childhood.  I won’t let them ruin the whole apple, and my smiley, happy, pictures are here to prove it. But I’m reconsidering just how much I reveal. I don’t want to live my life in fear, but I also don’t want to be reckless with what I put out there.

What are your thoughts on sharing photos of your children?  Is it unreasonable for me to think that predators are combing my posts for pictures?  Or is that really the world we live in.  Judd Apatow might not think so, but I’m not so sure.

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13 comments

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  1. butchcountry67

    Funny i had the same experience 11 years ago, we (my wife and I and our baby boy) were at Princess Island park in Calgary Alberta (Canada) when a young couple maybe in their mid twenties asked if they could take a picture of our son ( he was about 2 then), I said no I don’t know you so just no. they simply walked away.
    our son and I got into quite a few photo albums in China though, I always carried him on my shoulders when he was young, seems chinese tourists just couldn’t get enough of our blonde blue eyed curly haired boy and would snap photos from a slight distance….. very strange, but then I wasn’t too worried, they’d always smile and bow and say thank you in broken english then scurry off talking to each other in chinese. the oddest experience was when we were in Banff Alberta and a tour bus load of asians pulled up and they filed out and started taking pictures of him and I and his Mom, these were all elderly folks and I assumed all were husband and wife couples.

    I seldom post pictures of him online, he is 13 now and I try and keep his life private.
    I don’t know that there are more predators now than back 20 or 30 years ago, I believe they have always been there, just now we are globally connected and hear about and see them because of social media.

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    • Steph Mignon

      So maybe I overreacted then! It sounds like it’s a common thing for tourists to want to take pictures of people’s babies. It just felt weird to me though! And I agree with you, social media makes “them” seem so much more real… It’s a scary sad world! Thinking of you, btw.

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  2. Mandi

    Several years ago I was with my Emirate boyfriend at Cheesecake Factory when a small boy, maybe 3 or 4, was trying to peek through the glass at the cakes on display while his father was busy in conversation. Without hesitation, my bf picked the little boy up under his arms and held him up so he could see into the display. The boy immediately started crying and his dad took him and laughed about the situation. I explained to him how people don’t really do that with stranger’s kids here in America and he explained to me how much Arab people love kids and it’s common to hold random kids or have them sit on your lap. I have been to UAE and it is true. That being said – I KNOW this man and I know that his intentions were innocent. If I was the boy’s father and my bf was the stranger, would the situation be different? Absolutely! It is always important to be culturally sensitive to others, but never at the expense and safety of our own children. Just as butchercountry67 stated earlier about being in China and having people take pictured of him and his son, this was likely a cultural experience that did not cause him to feel threatened at the time. Had a random Chinese man walked up to him at Walmart and asked to snap the picture, it may have been different. We have instincts for a reason! Just like when you have that strong urge to check on your sleeping baby or else you cant relax until you do. Follow your instincts always, they were put there by mother nature.

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    • Steph Mignon

      Mandy, thank you for further shedding light on the cultural differences. Makes me hope the guy wasn’t a weirdo after all. BUT despite whether he was or wasn’t, my job AND my instinct are to protect. Without an explanation, and me knowing where an how pictures are going to be used, no one is taking any of my kid! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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  3. oneillme

    You had every right to react that way! When Frankie was about 6 months, we flew to a wedding in Montana via San Francisco. We were on a flight with 75 (literally) Chinese students. A small group of them came up to us as we were waiting to board from a delayed flight, and I was polite as they commented on how cute he was, etc. then they started taking pictures – without asking. Then the 3 or 4 people grew to 10. Then twenty. Then 30…I am not kidding, until we were surrounded by the whole delegation. They were coming right up to his stroller and had circled us in. My polite “excuse me’s” just turned into me mowing down anyone in my way to get the hell out of there. I know that these were just students not used to seeing a blond baby – but whatever. My maternal instinct had never kicked in stronger and I needed to get him out of there. We ended up doing laps around the terminal until everyone else had boarded. It was just not ok. And if your uncomfortable, that’s all that matters. All too often, I respond too politely, like a typical Midwesterner. I am starting to get better about saying no and not worrying about rudeness…as I get older, I realize that the # of times I am mad at myself after-the-fact in responding too politely far outweighs any guilt I have over the few times I have had to be rude. And that difference could one day mean the safety of my kids.

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  4. Kimberly

    When I was in China and uganda people wanted to take their photo with me simply because they had never seen a causaian person before, but i would likely say no for me child. My opinion is that a child cannot consent to that like I can. When they were born I just went through my facebook and made all the toughest privacy settings and then ubfriended the 100 people who I was not actually friendly with anymore!

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