The other day, my four-year old daughter threw a temper-tantrum in a supermarket. (If you're an average parent, you will know this is not an unusual occurrence.) After spending the better part of twenty minutes reasoning with and cajoling her, enough was enough: I threw her over my shoulder and marched her out of the goddamn store.
To the nearby bystander, this would have presented something of a dilemma: they saw a man dragging a screaming child away from witnesses and into the unknown. Nobody did anything. "It's probably her dad", they doubtlessly reasoned. But what if it wasn't? What if the guy doing the dragging hadn't been me?
Here's an unusual stance to ponder: I'm cool with you disregarding my feelings when it comes to my kids. I want you to be a suspicious, busy-body arsehole who always assumes the worst. Because one day, it might be somebody else dragging my kid from that store.
The likelihood of your child being kidnapped by a stranger is incredibly low. According to official ABS figures, victims of kidnapping/abduction has fallen to a six-year low of 2.2 victims per 100,000.
Bear in mind that this number includes adult victims and cases where the child abductee was known to the perpetrator. On average, child victims account for just 20 percent of abductions in any given year and at least half of those are committed by non-strangers.
In other words, every parent's fear of the "strange white van" is well out of proportion to the actual threat.
This has given rise to a spate of news stories and "think pieces" about wrongly accused parents whose only crime was playing with their kids in public. Usually, the subject of the article is a dad who is furious that a member of the public projected their irrational fear onto him and his child. (Recent examples include the hotel that contacted police after mistaking a father for a paedophile and the airline that detained a dad for resting his hand near his son's lap while sleeping on a flight.)
But here's the thing: what if these guys weren't the fathers? Just because a crime is statistically low doesn't mean we should't practice due vigilance - especially for crimes as heinous as these. As the hotel chain in the aforementioned police case stated: "we take our responsibilities towards protecting children and vulnerable young people extremely seriously."
It's worth noting that hotel and hospitality staff are often specifically trained to identify children who could be at risk. They're not trying to ruin your day or besmirch your character on a whim. They are trying to protect your kid.
Members of the general public are usually less educated when they choose to intervene, but again: your child's safety is at the top of their mind. Surely making an innocent parent feel angry and insulted is worth this added layer of protection?
I know first-hand how embittered this particular brand of unfounded suspicion can make you feel. I was once pointedly asked by a stranger what I was doing in a public pool reserved for children. I calmly informed him I was there to observe my child's swimming lesson, along with all the other parents in the pool - but inside I was seething. Way to ruin my day, jerkwad.
And yet, it is often these "helicopter" citizens who save children at risk. They are the ones who contact police when they see something suspicious, however small. It is their cold, unyielding stares that cause would-be abductors to slink away from the park.
999,999 times out of a million, their actions will be hysterical and unfounded. But it is that other one time we should all focus on and be thankful for.