Heart Problem: Logo as a Symbol of Our Fear

lenore skenazyBY LENORE SKENAZY | A mom just bought a toy for her two-year-old that signals to pedophiles that the girl is ready to be traded for sex.

Wait, what?

I’d repeat it, but it still wouldn’t make any sense. And yet, this modern-day myth has gone viral, showing up on Headline News, AOL, local media, and, of course, it’s all over Facebook. One mom there lamented, “I did not know that pedophiles have their own insidious silent language that is infiltrating society through pretty pink images…which signal to other pedophiles the child can be traded.”

Do we really live in that kind of hell for kids?

The story — such as it is — involves a Florida mom who bought a pink plush truck for her daughter at a monster truck rally down there. Somehow (the original WFLA–TV reporter never tells us how), the mom came to believe that the “heart-within-a-heart” logo on the toy is a code pedophiles use.

I should mention that the “heart-within-a-heart” logo is also the logo you see on Good Humor ice cream bars. Oh, and it is also what you see when your barista has mastered the art of making a heart in your cappuccino foam.

And yet, using a garbled mishmash of horror and hysteria, the television reporter told viewers that because of that heart logo, the toy “held a sick secret; a disgusting calling card for creeps.” And now, “When a pedophile sees children with the heart symbol, it’s a code meaning that child is ready to be traded for sex.”

While presenting zero evidence that the world works like this, the reporter then interviewed the mom, who seemed as distraught as if her child had just narrowly escaped the clutches of Cropsey.

“I’m absolutely sick!” she cried. “This is pink! This is for little girls, especially at a predominantly male event.”

So does the mom think the “male event” deliberately stocked up on pink toys that so that unwitting parents would buy them? And that predators would see the symbol, and go, “Look! A heart on a toy. This mom must be willing to sell her child into sex slavery!”? And then what? Would she feel obligated to trade her kid for cash because that’s how the system works?

I can’t stop marveling at this “news” story, because it shows that we are so obsessed with the fear of predators — or at least news editors are so obsessed with feeding us these stories — that we never even stop to say, Wait, what?

For a dose of actual facts, I dropped a line to David Finkelhorn, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

“I can’t reassure you that there isn’t some lonely pedophile club somewhere that has decided to make a logo,” he wrote back. And it is true, in trying to find whether there was anything, anywhere, that could suggest even a scintilla of justification for the story, I learned there was one lone government file, written about 10 years ago (and played up in an episode of “Law & Order: SVU,” of course), that suggested pedophiles might wear logos that indicated their leanings.

“But,” Finkelhor added, “what is certainly true is that pedophiles would not simply decide to pick a victim based on carrying an item with a logo. No one should worry about the logo being dangerous for their kids.”

But that is the problem.

We are worried all the time about this least likely of crimes: stranger danger. Christie Barnes, author of “The Paranoid Parents Guide,” found that the very top worry of parents is kidnappings (and number four is “dangerous strangers”). This fear haunts us even though our crime rate is the lowest it has been in decades. It haunts us even though we know that when it comes to crimes against children, the vast majority are committed not by strangers, but trusted adults.

When stories like this fan the flames of predator panic, we get a population ever more obsessed with sex offenders, ever more demanding of police protection, and ever more convinced that their kids are in constant danger, even from a plush toy.

Here’s the real news: they’re not.

Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker who authored the book, and founded the blog, Free-Range Kids (freerangekids.com).