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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 30-Apr-08


Wednesday 30-April-08

Preying on sympathy

There was a recent case in the UK of a little girl called Shannon who went missing. Her parents appeared tearfully on TV pleading for her return and a massive police hunt was set in motion. In the end, she was rather strangely found in the base of a bed in an uncle's nearby house. Then there began a whose series of arrests of family members, including her mother and step-father. The bottom line seems to be a money-making scam through a 'Find Shannon' fund, something like the highly-publicised Madeleine McCann affair. How they thought they would get away with it heaven knows. In fact all they did was attract significant police attention which uncovered a series of other misdemeanours.

Like most scammers, they had no concern (or, probably, realisation) for the wider impact of their deception. The scenario of a missing child is similar to a brand in the way it automatically evokes strong sympathy for those involved. When confidence tricksters play on these automatic responses they also weaken them. Next time a child goes missing, the public reaction is likely to be more muted. The attention that could help find the child and support the parents may be replaced with suspicion and cynicism. This is the major damage that Shannon's parents have done.

Sadly also the Madeleine McCann case could also contribute, although I've much sympathy for her beleaguered parents. Mud sticks and the Portugese police's suspicions of parental guilt (which have been taken up by some of the media) will make many wonder -- and the Shannon case will only exacerbate this.

A real danger from all this is that future cases of missing children may start with unnecessary, distracting and distressing attention on parents (and who, fearing this may be damagingly reticent). With cynical or bored public attention, vital clues may also be lost.

Cynicism and suspicion are killers of a caring society. Despite what we have seen, we must take each case on its merits and not pre-judge.

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