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Who abuses children?

September 2016

Only occasionally is the abuser someone the child doesn’t know. More often it is someone the child, or the child’s family, knows and trusts. However the myth of ‘stranger danger’ continues.

'Stranger danger' is an outdated, discredited and potentially dangerous concept that the New Zealand Police has steered away from since the late 1980s. 

Children need to know how to identify and tell a trusted person if anyone is behaving towards them in a way that makes them feel unsafe. Normalising the term ‘stranger danger’ goes against this.

'Stranger danger' makes it easier for abusers known to the child (the most common source by far of abuse in New Zealand), because children think that people known to them aren’t ‘strangers’ and therefore won't harm them.

'Stranger danger' may lull parents and caregivers into a false sense of security. They think that if they have told children to avoid strangers they will be keeping their children safe from abuse. They don't think that the abuse might come from a family member or someone else known to the child. They also forget that children might need to go to strangers for help in certain circumstances. 

However the Internet creates new challenges as the Internet provides a means for ‘strangers’ to befriend and then groom young people.

So, rather than concentrating on stereotypical strangers, it is important children know about the behaviours to avoid and report, no matter whether the abuse  come from a person unknown or familiar to the child, or whether they occur online or in the real world.


For more information, see pages 5-6 of the late Professor Emeritus Freda Briggs’ paper entitled To what extent can Keeping Ourselves Safe protect our children.

For a recent media article, read