Policing Naked Babies
Guest post by Lady Arglebar
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.
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…
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.