Why stranger danger is the worst thing we are taught

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One of the first things we are taught in school from a young age is that talking to strangers is a dangerous thing to do. That strangers are always the ones to hurt us. To kidnap us. To steal from us. But the advice is incredibly out-dated and does more harm than good because we start looking for danger in the wrong places.

Your rapist is your boyfriends’ best friend. You stalker is the colleague you turned down for a date. Your thief is a friend of a friend.

We’re so busy looking at strangers, we forget to look at those already in our lives.

As Mary Poppins one said:

Sometimes a person, through no fault of his own, can’t see past the end of his nose.

Yes, crimes by strangers can and do happen but the majority are committed by people close to us or that we know and we need to get better and trusting our gut instincts.

One of the great many things we are taught under the umbrella of stranger danger is how to be on alert and always protect ourselves. We are taught to never leave our drinks unattended and that it’s safer to give a fake number than it is to say ‘no thank you’.

What we really need to be teaching each other and our children in school is not to spike peoples’ drinks to commit violence or even as a prank. We need to teach them how to accept rejection and move on from it in all forms. We need to teach men and women not to rape, not how to dress.

There are many lessons we are taught in school that we later unlearn for ourselves but the one we are constantly aware of is stranger danger. We must make sure we walk home with someone we know when it’s dark so that a stranger can’t jump out of the bushes and get us. We forget that that someone could be our ‘stranger’; we only met them an hour ago. We create imaginary boyfriends because it’s easier than saying no to the drunk guy; we don’t know how he will react.

We lay all the responsibility on the potential victim instead of teaching the perpetrator how to be a respectful human being. We are not taught how to listen to our gut instinct and say the word ‘no’ with confidence. We are told to make excuses because we don’t know how someone will react hearing the word ‘no’.

When we meet that girl at a party and she seems a little ‘too good to be true’, it’s probably her that stole your wallet, not the drunk guy in the corner. When a friend breaks down in tears that she was raped, she probably knows her attacker. And when you start getting weird texts and phone calls late at night, it’s probably the date you turned down ‘gently’ instead of being direct with them.

There are subtle nuances to every persons behaviour and whilst it can be very hard to pick those up when you have only just met someone or don’t know them too well, if you listen hard enough, there will always be your inner voice trying to speak to you.

Listen to it. It will serve you well.

  • Mark


    I wondered where my wallet went! I also love that you talked about rape and quoted Mary Poppins. A very good piece Toni. There really should be school lessons on saying ‘no’ and how to accept a persons decision.

    I read once that it is your absolute right to say ‘no, I don’t want to do that’ (whatever it might be), but I suspect most of feel, obligated or pressured to make an excuse, for our unwillingness to do something, rather than just saying no thanks. Mmmm.

    • Toni

      Mark – I think you’re right, especially us Brits who are brought up to be polite and not to get caught up in confrontation even if it’s our right to do so!

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