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Nancy Grace: Pandering profiteer

By Sandy . . . I get a large number of emails each day, many containing links to stories or news items. I cannot read them all, and I generally make that decision in less than a second. What determines whether I click or not? Maybe the title, the publication, or the person who sent it to me.

In this case, it was primarily the name Nancy Grace jumping out at me. Among the pro tougher-on-crime proponents, Ms. Grace is one of the more colorful. What would she have to say this time? As it turns out, this was not a story. It was not a news item. It was an advertisement.

Turns out that Ms. Grace, expert as she is, has prepared a five-part series of videos under the category of keeping your children safe. And right now it is 40% off AND comes with a flexible payment plan.

Like most good sales pitches, it ends with a clincher designed to stop you in your tracks if you were considering leaving the site without purchasing. It asks, in large, bold letters:

If your child doesn’t come home from school today, what would you do? and follows that with four “supportive” points designed to scare any parent almost to death:

  • Over 450,000 missing child reports are made every year.
  • One in seven runaways are believed to be victims of child sex trafficking.
  • 38% of attempted abductions occur while a child is walking to or from school.
  • 78% of kidnapped children who are murdered will be killed in the first three hours.

With all these numbers and statistics, I went into automatic research mode, and every site I found, from private child advocacy groups to governmental sites, gave the same information. It was most succinctly put together on the Polly Klass Foundation site. The relevant points in contrast to three of Ms. Grace’s points are these:

  • Of the 450,000 missing child reports made every year, 99.8% of the children who go missing do come home.
  • Only about 100 children (a fraction of 1%) are kidnapped each year in the stereotypical stranger abductions you hear about in the news. About half of these 100 children come home safely.
  • Concerning the percentage of kidnapped children who are murdered, what is not generally reported is the fact that this statistic refers to the very small group of children abducted by violent or predatory kidnappers. Break it down: approximately 100 a year are kidnapped by someone who might kill them. Approximately half are recovered and returned safely home. That leaves about 50. How many are killed? It almost always makes national news. One…two…maybe three in a horrible year. Even double that if you think national news misses some. One is one too many, but giving the impression that 78% of children who are kidnapped – and that they are kidnapped in alarming numbers — will be killed in the first three hours of being missing is grossly – and deliberately – misleading.
  • For Ms. Grace’s second point, run-aways and sex trafficking, the statistic may be true. It may not be true. No one knows. What is known is that a significant number youth who are run-aways go missing from foster care and social services programs. The issue of homeless and throw-away youth in our nation is a blight that we, in my opinion, have yet to address adequately.

In presenting the items for sale, the sales pitch is, “For your own sake, for the sake of your children and the people that you love – know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.” And what would that be? Why get the Nancy Grace video series, of course.

These are the topics of each of the videos in the series and my analysis and ranking of the value of each:

Lesson 1: Safe in Your Own Home: Learn the secrets to protecting your home and stopping child abductions and crimes before they happen. I’ll rate this one at 75, maybe 80%; protecting one’s home: a good thing; stopping crime before it happens: good. Teaching your children common sense general safety while they are at home: good. However, since the number of true child abductions of the type suggested here, i.e., by a predatory stranger, is on average 100 per year, and since Lesson 4 claims that 38 of those happen while walking to or from school (a number that I cannot verify) that leaves 73. This is somewhere in the neighborhood of how many children are struck by lightning each year. Children who are predatorily abducted by strangers for nefarious purposes are seldom taken from their own homes.

Lesson 2: Safe Out and About: What’s the one thing you should do every morning to prepare for an abduction? Learn how to keep your children safe from predators while you’re out and about. This one gets a 0. Imagine being a kid raised in a home where every morning you are prepared against being abducted. Remember: on average 100 kids a year are abducted in the manner being talked about here. And almost all situations that place children at risk from sexual predators or any type of harm occur in homes, either their own or that of someone they trust and have a relationship with, not while they are “out and about,” and not by strangers, which is what is implied here.

Lesson 3: Safe Online: How do you stop your kids from inviting predators into your living room? Learn to combat the threat of online predators, bullies and other dangers new technology brings. Without having seen it, I’ll give this one 90%. Kids absolutely must be taught computer and online safety, but it needs to be focused on the facts, and I don’t know if this one is.

Lesson 4: Safe at School: 38% of attempted abductions occur while a child is walking to and from school. How can you be prepared? How can you stop it? I don’t know how to rate this one – maybe 10%. Remember, it is talking the stereotypical stranger kidnapping, which is approximately 100 per year, an infinitesimally tiny number of America’s school children, even those who walk to school. The claim is that 38 of those abductions happen while walking to or from school. Of course, it does say attempted abductions. First, I cannot verify this number at all. Secondly, many, many reported attempted abductions were nothing of the sort, so that makes the number even more suspect. Should children be taught never to get in a car with someone they don’t know or go anywhere with someone they don’t know no matter what they say (lost puppy; parents in accident)? Of course. But raising a child to believe that he is in danger of being snatched off the street every time he is outside is unconscionable.

Lesson 5: Daycare Dangers and Nannies from Hell: Can you really trust your babysitter, daycare or nanny with the thing you love most? Learn what to look for and what to ask. Depending on how this is presented, this one could be 100%. Proper screening for anyone hired to look after your children is essential. However, I wonder if this lesson raises the fact that almost all sexual harm and virtually all harm of other types to children are committed by those already within the family circle of trust – family members, peers, and the children’s authority figures.

Overall, this series seems to be about 50% helpful, 50% harmful, and 100% fear-mongering.