Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Fw: Criminal Gang Initiations in Rural English Villages

If you see a baby seat left by the side of the road, DO NOT STOP!!! Local police have released a warning that criminal gangs are using this ruse to lure women into stopping their cars to check on the baby. The location of the car seat will usually be beside a wooded area, and the woman will be dragged out of view of the road, beaten, raped, and left for dead. Their car and possessions will be taken by the thieves! These are desperate times and unsavoury individuals will take desperate measures to get what they want. Please inform all the women you care about!!! This nearly happened to my friend's wife but, luckily, she didn't stop.

And then their kidneys get stolen and then...oh, wait. Setting aside the point that any criminal gang attempting to make a living in a rural English village possibly isn't intelligent enough to come up with such a complicated scheme, surely something so horrific would have been, like, in the news?

What this is, dear gullible Facebook and email acquaintances, is an urban legend. Stories such as these, like 19th-century folk-tales, seem to mirror the anxieties and beliefs of the people who tell them. Little Red Riding Hood? The story takes on a new meaning when you remember that, once upon a time, girls really might just have been eaten/molested by wolves/men if they strayed into the forest away from the safety of the village.

The baby seat tale isn't much different from Little Red Riding Hood, especially if you believe the interpretations of the original folk tale as being a warning against the dangers of sexual predators. Innocent victim lured away by criminals, leaving her entirely at their mercy to suffer what is commonly perpetuated as the worst fate that can befall a woman - rape.

As a woman, I've had this rapey fear drummed into me from an early age, via cautionary tales of foolish girls wearing short skirts (urghhh) and warnings about the dangers of shady men prowling the nighttime streets. Never mind that most rapes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim; never mind that this kind of myth can be harmful when it plants the seed in people's minds that rape isn't really rape unless it is committed by a violent stranger.

We can see a similar collective hysteria when it comes to paedophillia and recidivism - that's the likelihood that a criminal will reoffend. Studies have suggested that sex offenders are actually less likely to be rearrested after their release from prison than other criminals. But the widespread belief that re-offence among paedophiles is pretty much guaranteed has worked its way into how such criminals are sentenced (I'm not getting into the argument over punishment versus rehabilitation here, only that misconceptions shouldn't play a part in our justice system).

And are we still talking about the dangers of vaccination? A quick look in the news tells me yes! After all, what is a wealth of scientific information in the face of an internet-sized storm of relatable stories about kids whose lives have been ruined by vaccines? The irony is that, along with saving millions of lives, vaccines also immunised the public against their fear of vaccine-preventable diseases. No one is scared of measles anymore. But what about that girl who so-and-so's friend's aunt knew who was eaten by the family cats RIGHT after getting the MMR vaccine. Coincidence? Complete fabrication? Whatever, it's a good story!

Urban legends are a way of sharing and reaffirming our collective beliefs about the dangers surrounding us. Humans are hard-wired to want to tell stories and doing so creates a sense of community that brings us together and shapes how we live our lives. But it's not always a good thing when it makes us scared of things that aren't actually dangerous (vaccines, rural rape-gangs, Muslims), while at the same time we end up underestimating the real dangers (roads, alcohol, measles).

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