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Tuesday
Sep072010

Policing Naked Babies

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Guest post by Lady Arglebar

TRIGGER WARNING

We had some friends and their kids over the other day for chips, salsa and childhood merriment. The kids played outside and we kept watchful eye that they stayed in the backyard or immediately in front of the house, which is located in a typical suburban neighborhood. Around 7:00 at night, the two-and-a-half year old followed the older kids into the front yard after having peed her pants and stripped down to her little chunky birthday suit. We looked on the side of the house, then walked out to the front porch and laughed—she had been standing out in the front yard buck naked for about a minute.

The kids continued to play while we stood out front with them, finishing conversations and saying goodbye.

At 7:30, there was a knock at the door. Two police officers stood in the doorway, inquiring about the naked child alone in the front yard. My husband called me out of the bedroom to talk to them because he missed the in which she wandered to the front with no adult at her side.

Man cop: We received a call that there was a young child alone in the front yard with no clothes on.

Me: Yes?

Man cop: Well, we came by to check what was going on. We just arrested someone around the corner doing something creepy to children. You might not realize this, but some people find that (the naked preschooler) appealing.

Me: She’s two.

Lady cop: [Palms up in a non-threatening manner] I know, I know. And it’s better if she’s naked that you have her in the back yard rather than the front yard.

Man cop: That’s why we come around to check and to educate people.

Me: Okay. Sure. Do what you need to do [Giving a welcoming gesture to walk around the house.]

Man cop: Well, you seem like normal people blah blah blah…

Normal people?

Well, if by normal, these white cops meant “white, middle-class surburb dwellers with children”, then they were correct. We are normal.

They left and I shook my head. What were they investigating? Would they have sent two cops out if she had been clothed and in the front yard alone for less than a minute? There was more to the paraphrased conversation, but I realized that they drove over to our house and knocked on the door because of the nudity. Baby nudity. Baby nudity occurring a shocking 10 to 12 feet away from the sidewalk and about 20 feet away from the front door.

I tried to imagine what I would do if I saw a child of the same age alone in a public place with no adult in sight. I might stand nearby and passively keep a watchful eye, anticipating a parent or guardian with beads of sweat to come running up at any second with that familiar relief washed fear at the sight of their child. In this case, if I saw a two-year-old child alone on a front yard and I were walking by, I might say hi and look for parents. If none were handy, I might knock on the door and give them a heads up that their kid was in the front yard alone, as it’s only a matter of time before a smart kid figures out a way to turn the front lock.

This was different. We are assuming it was someone driving by, as we didn’t notice any pedestrian action when we all went out front to join the kids. I woke up at 3 a.m. and it hit me—this wasn’t about someone fearing negligence. Someone was afraid of my two-year-old’s public nudity. Apparently the cops were, too.

And nudity must mean sexual abuse. Right?

So, really, what the fuck were they thinking?

They were afraid that a stranger would find the naked two-year-old sexually appealing and… kipnap and rape her?

They were afraid that if they didn’t answer the call and something criminal was actually was going on, they could be sued later?

We could look at the numbers. The number of instances of forcible rape divided by the entire population shows that any resident of this town of any age has a 0.02% chance of being forcibly raped according to 2008 statistics. We know that the majority of sexual crimes go unreported by their victims. We also know that in the majority of cases, the victim knew his or her attacker.

But what are the odds that a stranger would actual drive by and kidnap a two-year-old from their front yard with other kids running around and adults in the background?

Not likely, as Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids points out in posts like this, this and this. In this article in which Skenazy was interviewed by Katharine Mieszkowski on Salon.com, Skenazy looks our alarmist culture straight in the eyes and says:

There is a 1 in 1.5 million chance that your kid would be abducted and killed by a stranger. It is hard to wrap your mind around those numbers, and everybody always assumes: What if it’s my 1 in 1.5 million?

If you don’t want to have your child in any kind of danger, you really can’t do anything. You certainly couldn’t drive them in a car, because that’s the No. 1 way kids die, as passengers in car accidents.

It could be that the person calling in was completely off their rocker and blew the scenario out of proportion, i.e., “Sakes alive, there’s a naked baby slave chained to the front porch without any adults around. HURRY!”

I am by no means a free spirit, regularly throwing caution to the wind. I am a fairly anal-retentive parent who is probably overly concerned for her kids’ welfare. No wheat before one year! No movies with bad guys! Only organic apples or they’ll become axe murderers! I’ve seen and experienced some scary and tragic shit in my lifetime and I know that unfortunate things can and sometimes will happen to me and the people around me, yet I just can’t buy into the Boogeyman bullshit.

I am freaked out. I’m not freaked out that if my child walks in to the front yard, she will be instantly abducted. I am freaked out that someone drove by, was gripped with terror at the sight of my naked two-year-old’s vulva or buttocks and sought to alert the authorities to our family’s moral transgression. Strangely, the authorities seemed eager to validate this behavior by coming over to “educate” us about the Boogeyman who lurks in the shadows and finds my preschooler “appealing”.

So why would I submit this to a blog like The Unnecesarean? Well, everything I’ve discussed sounds like the attitudes that women discuss on birth blogs and message boards.

The media we consume

We could start with the media. At some point, the market became saturated with cheesy forensics shows featuring teenagers being abducted right and left, which many people consume via that familiar alpha wave mind fog.

Americans consume media in the form of woeful tales of all of the frivolous lawsuits that plague society, never once stopping to try to gain perspective on exactly how often lawsuits that are actually frivolous make it to court.

Women’s bodies are shameful

Women should feel ashamed and fearful of what their body does. Naked baby girls should keep covered or something awful will happen. A woman feeding a baby with her breast is a vile act and should have you sent to jail (or at least defacebooked).

Mothers are inherently hostile

We need to keep the authorities on the alert for the hostile intentions of each and every parent toward their own child. This goes double for fetuses. Parents need to follow a plan or a method to be a good parent.

It’s all dangerous!

Pregnancy and birth is inherently dangerous! [Plan a c-section!]

Infancy is inherently dangerous! [Recall all drop-side cribs! But make sure you put your newborn in a crib in the other room for safety!]

Childhood is inherently dangerous! [They’ll kill themselves (if a swarm of perverts doesn’t first) on see-saws so get play equipment out of public parks!]

Mothers are inherently dangerous! [Can you believe some don’t want to nurse their babies? Why did they get pregnant in the first place if they didn’t want to do it right? For shame!]

 

Here’s the deal: If you tell me and all of my friends that the Boogeyman is going to get me unless we _______ and you won’t offer me any proof that he is standing by, licking his chops, I’m thinking we’ll eventually start seeing your warnings as hollow. Perhaps we should lock up our kids all day and night. If they get from birth to age 18 without being abducted or molested, we can pat ourselves on the back for preventing an abduction, as we can never be sure in retrospect which children in the country would have been the ones abducted. Our kids might be underexercised, undersocialized, and glued to the television, but we can take the moral high road in any argument for being the only people willing to shelter them from the threat of abduction.

Gene DeClercq and Judy Norsigian wrote about this crisis mentality phenomenon in 2007 in their Boston Globe editorial, The Folly of 1 Percent. They link Vice President Dick Cheney’s commitment to the principle that if there’s even a one percent chance that a terrorist attack will occur, we must prepare as if it will.

Creating a crisis atmosphere is essential to the 1 percent doctrine and its ability to override all obstacles — be they constitutional restrictions on national security measures or concerns about the United States ranking last among industrialized countries on infant mortality. Such an atmosphere encourages more centralized decision-making and stifles debate. The fact that most of these crises never occur and that countless resources are expended to prevent something that was unlikely to happen anyway is lost in the relief of the immediate positive outcome (a healthy baby or no terrorist attack). In the long run, however, we’ve wasted time and money, created new problems, and ignored systematically documented, if less emotional, evidence.

A version of the 1 percent doctrine has been invoked for decades in steering the US healthcare system away from an emphasis on preventive care for the whole population to an obsession with treating rare events. As a debating strategy, the 1 percent doctrine is extremely persuasive. As a policy guideline, it makes no sense in either politics or healthcare.

My daughter will be most likely be naked in my front yard in the future. She is not indecent in this state, nor is her tiny naked body asking for physical violence. I feel for all of the people who just cannot shake that fear of the miniscule chance that something bad will happen, but I’m pretty pissed at the dumbfuck who called the cops on my naked two-year-old and the cops who saw fit to come check on Scandalbaby for daring to disrobe in the yard. 

 

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Reader Comments (38)

I agree with the majority of this post; I don't understand the way our culture perceives the body especially in children. I didn't realize how uncommon my unbringing was until recently and just how many people freak out at the idea of bathing with their children, or bathing their opposite sex children together, or an glimpse of any sort of nudity as a major trauma ... I have 7 siblings(3 sisters, 4 brothers) and always knew that boys and girls were shaped different just because that's how they were and there was no sense of shame in that since it's just the way we are. I never really thought twice before bathing with my kids and then saw a message board post where other moms were freaking out about the idea ... like their naked form is going to traumatize or incite lust in their toddler? So freakin bizarre! If the cops really were just checking to see if you're the child's parents and there was nothing strange going on I don't see that as a bad thing; you have to remember they only have the information they're given to go off of. They probably got a call from someone heavily implying there was some sort of crazed sex party going on!

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMariah

Oh.
My.
God.

I love you so much for this. I think I kind of need YOU to be naked right now.

Seriously though, I actually wrote something ALMOST EXACTLY LIKE THIS. USING THE SAME STATS AND EVERYTHING but geared a little more toward the "child abduction" fearmongering that everyone has. I just haven't posted it on my blog yet because I haven't streamlined it. Do you know what THIS post means? It means I can't post mine 'cause I'll be copying you. Bitch.
Uh- I mean... great post!

Also want to add, this attitude and absolute stark terror of naked babies is VERY cultural and VERY America-centric. I'm not saying it doesn't happen all over from time to time, but Americans do it like it's making them money. It's totally freaky deaky to me (wow can you tell I'm in a manic, 'stay-up-all-night' phase, or what? Geez). Where I grew up was a tiny hippie farming island and EVERYONE was naked ALL THE TIME. All the beaches were nude, all our mothers walked around the house naked, all the kids had naked yearbook pictures for their grad posters set up on display in the middle of the school (boys and girls)... it was just a normal part of life and was never thought of as inherently sexual. We still shower with our kids, and dress in front of them (7 and almost 4) and they still play buck naked around the house every night, and sleep in the nude... and we're happy to let that continue as long as they're comfortable with it. :)

Love this post. So much.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

Something that has always interested me, along the same lines, are that the people that would bitch about my toddler swimming naked (totally potty trained and all that - not trying to add to the pool, guys) are the same ones who bitch about her wearing swim trunks and a rash guard when I have to dress her at the pool/beach/whatever. Apparently, she should be wearing ~girl~ swimsuits. So, I can't have her naked, because that's weird and sexual, but I should instead put her in a toddler bikini, emphasizing her non-existent female secondary sex characteristics? What?

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterANaturalAdvocate

you are an incredible writer. you connected the dots nicely. i hope you submit this to a few opinion pages.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentervanessa

Sorry, I guess I'd try to be grateful that neighbors are keeping an eye out for the safety of children, even if they went too far in this case. I have to believe whoever made that call to the police was well intentioned, and its not their fault they've seen too many episodes of Criminal Minds or CSI or whatever other crappy procedural shows make our society believe there are child predators on every corner. So yes, be mad at society and the media, but try to forgive the anonymous caller and the police responders.

(Also, personally, if I saw a 2 year old alone in front of a house, clothed or not, for more than a minute I actually would stop to make sure they were ok and check for the parents, maybe even ring the doorbell. I'd be worried about them wandering into the street.)

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Jill, I provided my email in case you need to contact me, I'm pretty sure you'll know who I am but I do have a reason for otherwise posting anonymously, and it's not to hide my identity from the main posters here but from any lurking trolls.

<<Sorry, I guess I'd try to be grateful that neighbors are keeping an eye out for the safety of children, even if they went too far in this case. I have to believe whoever made that call to the police was well intentioned, and its not their fault they've seen too many episodes of Criminal Minds or CSI or whatever other crappy procedural shows make our society believe there are child predators on every corner. So yes, be mad at society and the media, but try to forgive the anonymous caller and the police responders.>>

I'm sorry, but I have to respectfully disagree with this opinion (well, forgiveness is always a good thing...so forgive, but don't excuse the bad behavior). I've known too many people terrorized by CPS and the authorities for small "infractions" like this. Instead of reporting parents to the authorities, if we are concerned for the child's safety we should first bring it to the attention of the parents...ie, actually **talk** to our neighbors!!!! (There's a new one, instead of calling the nanny state, get up off your @$$ and talk to people.) If this is not a normal pattern of behavior, the authorities do not need to be involved. There is not one parent whose child hasn't wandered somewhere they'd be better off not wandering, unless the child is not yet mobile. And if there is one out there that hasn't had this experience, they will. No one can supervise at 100%, 100% of the time. It is just not humanly possible.

We all do our best, and as humans we're going to experience imperfection. Additionally, as humans, our standards vary. I may think it's important for my kids to stretch themselves and achieve physical competency, even if it means a few bruised shins, while others may think any sort of pain / fall is bad. It is not for us to judge merely on the basis of a different style (note I'm not talking about letting abusive parents go scott free here, I'm talking normal everyday falls off a bike, etc.). Some people are risk takers, some are not. My second boy is a risk taker big time...he tries just about anything, but he is good about monitoring himself when something is too difficult for him. Yet, I don't ask him not to try, to me that would be holding him back. I watch him and provide assistance when he needs it (and often before he *wants* it).

The fear that every parent is potentially neglecting or abusing their children is way overblown. Unsought after criticism from strangers in public is the norm these days. Seems everyone knows how to parent your children better than you do...and of course, they all have different advice, sometimes polar opposite. If you're truly concerned for the child's safety, first look for the parents before calling the authorities...you'll likely find a parent who's very relieved that you found his/her child, or who was on his/her way to the child already. Not exactly a situation for the authorities.

Here's a good article, with a lot of interesting comments, regarding the scrutiny of others' parenting styles, with a great commentary on what might have happened had you been poor, or non-white, or otherwise "non-normal." Some of the comments are quite intelligent too, not the normal scaremongering but if we save one child comments.

http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/26/parenting-under-scrutiny/

I'm with the author of this blog post...if you can't take any risks, there's nothing you can do, including drive anywhere. Even sitting in your own house, there's that small chance of a home invasion....what's a person to do.

People need to get a grip, and be neighborly instead of being tattle tales. Back to kindergarten....

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

So ... The cops arrested someone AROUND THE CORNER doing something creepy to children, and it bothers you that they came to say 'be careful'?

I'm all for not fearmongering, but this post sounds like exactly that. 'Children won't be abducted because it's such a small chance and could never happen in my suburban neighbourhood! How *dare* the cops come to check and make sure everything was alright and alert me to the potential dangers that are ALREADY IN MY NEIGHBOURHOOD! Fight the man!'

"She is not indecent in this state, nor is her tiny naked body asking for physical violence." <- I'll agree. Naked babies aren't indecent. She's not asking for violence - but it COULD happen, regardless of how little you think the chances are.

I have a two year old. Sometimes he is naked. Sometimes he wanders out the front door. Sometimes he even wanders out the front door naked. If the cops came and told me that they arrested someone around the corner for 'doing something creepy with children', I think I'd be pretty quick to curtail the naked outside part of that equation - just for my own sanity, rather than brazenly strutting my naked child around outside screaming 'I am woman, hear me roar!'.

But I guess that's just me.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

People are way too quick to over react, but you may not have had such a response from the local authorities if there hadn't been something else going on in the area. You wrote that the cop said: "We just arrested someone around the corner doing something creepy to children." Which I think is an important part of what went on. Perhaps the person who called in knew about this? I know chances are awfully slim of anything happening to my baby, but I do keep a very close eye on her as I'm sure you do your children. Yeah I'd be a bit annoyed if authorities came banging at my door for a silly reason as once you're on there books even for something innocent they seem to keep a close eye on you (around here they do anyway but that's because we are a nice estate backed onto a not so nice estate). It's a big shame our kids can't run around naked and free without the threat of being photographed/attacked/something else. It makes me sad that there is always something in the world waiting to stamp on their care-free innocence. I try and keep it all away from my girl for as long as possible. After all, what child doesn't love running around naked!

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterM

Love this: "Our kids might be underexercised, undersocialized, and glued to the television, but we can take the moral high road in any argument for being the only people willing to shelter them from the threat of abduction."

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnother Rachel

I hadn't thought of this, and not that it makes it better, but...

I suppose it's POSSIBLE that the person who saw the toddler naked in the front yard actually WOULD have come up to the front door, or stayed close by, or kinda kept an eye on her for that minute or so till another adult appeared, but was afraid of the same crisis abductor perv around the corner mentality--the fear that one could get arrested for standing there WATCHING the naked toddler in the front yard of someone's house is probably not something to dismiss out of hand (given what happened when someone REPORTED the naked toddler in the front yard, not being watched)...

I mean, is it hard to imagine (especially if you were a man) seeing the naked little girl playing, getting out of your car, walking into the yard, knocking on the door, and having the parents completely freak out "OHMYGOD YOU SAW MY LITTLE GIRL NAKED YOU PERVERT"?

(Which is totally something my husband would do--the going up and knocking part, not the OHMYGOD part--and never think twice about it...)

Still kinda sick and nuts.

My kids, at 5 and 7, are just beginning to learn from peers or wherever that "naked is gross," which breaks my heart and which I'm trying to strongly redirect, because...well, sick and nuts.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenn
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