This article discusses the historical origins of the “stranger danger” myth, including the conditions that fueled the spread of panic. It explains how the myth was bolstered by increased media coverage, emotional appeals by parents, and public awareness campaigns. A number of important terms are defined and statistical information about child abductions in the United States is provided. Constructionist critiques of the “missing children” problem are explored as well as work that looks at the phenomenon through the lens of moral panic. A variety of social, legal, and ethical implications are discussed. The final sections assert the dangers of the myth, explain the difficulties involved in debunking the myth, and argue for the need to shift from fear-based responses to more rational responses that actually work to protect the most vulnerable populations of children (e.g., those who reside in abusive homes or experience harm at the hands of those known to them).

Author Biography

Aimee Wodda received her Ph.D. in Criminology, Law, and Justice from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her teaching interests include gender, sexuality, and the law, social injustice, and juvenile (in)justice. Her research interests include queer criminology, transgender legal theory, ethnography, narrative research, and visual sociology. She is currently affiliated with Adler University.