A YouTube vlogger who goes by the name “Joey Salads” posted a video this week where he shows parents in a park how easy it would be to abduct their children. It’s not a typical video for Salads, who usually focuses on “pranks.” But it has been a smash hit. In just a few days, the video has been viewed over 4.7 million times.
In the video, Salads — after receiving permission from the mother — approaches a child he does not know in a park with a puppy named Donuts.
He then offers to show the child more puppies. All the children in the video immediately take the bait, holding Salads’ hand as he walks away quickly.
In the payoff shot, set to ominous music, the mother is seen watching it all unfold, stunned.
During the video the message repeatedly flashes on the screen: “One Share Can Save A Life.” At the end of the video, Salads looks into the camera and says: “Over 700 kids are abducted a day, that’s over a quarter-million a year. Are your kids safe?”
But Salads needs to check his facts. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of kidnappings by strangers — the type of abduction depicted in Salads’ video — is actually 115 per year, according to 2002 data. Salads suggests that 255,500 children are abducted each year, which is about 255,385 more abductions than actually take place. (A follow-up study with more recent data, called NISMART-3, is being conducted now.) Salads did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A much larger number of children, about 200,000, are victims of “family abductions.” But this includes instances where a child remains in the custody of a family member in violation of a custody agreement. Children are included in this category if a caretaker answers yes to the question: “Did any family member outside of your household keep or try to keep [this child/any of these children] from you when you were supposed to have [him/her/them] even if for just a day or weekend?” In the overwhelming majority of these cases, the child is not in any danger or ever reported missing to the authorities. Most of the time the violator is the child’s mother or father. Some of these abductions are much more serious but still don’t involve a child lured by a stranger with a cute puppy in a park. In other words, none of these “abductions” bear any resemblance to the scenario depicted in Salads’ video.
Further, the implication of Salads’ video — that children should be more firmly instructed to avoid speaking with strangers — is not proven to be effective. David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, argues “We’d do much better to teach them the signs of people (strangers or not) who are behaving badly: touching them inappropriately, being overly personal, trying to get them alone, acting drunk, provoking others or recklessly wielding weapons.”
Critics, like Free-Range Kids author Lenore Skenazy, also note that the children in the video may have felt comfortable talking to Salads because he talked to their mothers before talking to them. Further, they are being directly supervised by their mothers who presumably would intervene if Salads was an actual stranger.
The rarity of stranger abduction is little comfort to parents whose children have been abducted by strangers. But there are risks inherent in every daily activity. Going to the park with your child — or letting an older child play in a park by themselves — is a pretty safe choice. Driving, for example, is much more dangerous. Each year 148,000 children under the age of 12 are injured and 650 die in auto accidents.
It’s harder, however, to make a viral video about car seat installation.