My husband doesn’t really like Facebook. Nor does he like any other social network. He thinks too much information get shared which makes it too easy for scumbags to take advantage of you. And I agree with him. What I struggled agreeing with him for a long time was his “no posting pictures policy”.
I admit, he got me to the point where I started asking other parents if it’s okay to take pictures of a team event with my children in, of my kids playing with them on a playground. They usually looked at me and didn’t understand why someone would ask at all. I always promised them not to share the pictures with their children in online. Which they thought was weird too, in most cases.
After all everyone does it, right? Everyone shares pictures on social networks. And why should you hide your life, your stunning pictures of your beautiful kids and your awesome new haircut or makeup? Our kids are totally awesome too and putting up a picture of them in the bath or on the beach or playing together was tempting. Especially as we are an expat family with friends and family overseas. So what would be easier than sharing those moments online, for everyone to see? Set the privacy settings on the most private setting and only allow the people you really want to see it to do so.
Easy? Maybe. But not with a husband, who knows way too much about cyber crime, bullying and how the yucky people work (oh those lawyers…). So after discussion after discussion after discussion I finally realized that he will never be happy about posting pictures online. He had very convincing arguments. Still, sometimes it irked me. Until that day…
We were on vacation. On vacation in a beautiful place, amongst heaps of people on vacation too. After spending an afternoon sightseeing we decided to give our kids a break and took them to a playground. While they were playing we were sitting close by on a bench watching them, until my husband suddenly jumps up, runs over and says stop to a guy, who was about to take a picture of his boy and our kids. My husband told him that he would prefer him not to take a picture of our kids and everything was fine. The man apologized and eventually we left. Not without a discussion between me and my husband.
I got where my husband was coming from, especially considering the theory about what might have happened to Maddie McCann. For those of you who are not familiar with it: They now believe that pedophile rings, child trafficker used to have people looking for potential victims in resorts, talking pictures of the kids and then upload them to a specific site from where potential customers could place orders. And then the kids got abducted, if possible. A guy with a camera taking pictures is not really weird in a holiday location…
In this case though, I felt my husband’s reaction was way over the top. The other guy was clearly a dad, probably on vacation, who wanted to take a picture of his son with his new found friends. What’s wrong with that? I would probably do the same… My husband, again, explained to me how many cases of child abduction have started like this and brought up the McCann case. He also mentioned that even if this guy was fine we would have no clue what would happen to the pictures. I was still not really convinced. And to be honest, what started as a normal discussion ended in a pretty heated argument.
It was the very next day that my perspective on that subject changed forever. My husband had a meeting and so I took Grandma and the kids to a busy beach, which was the closest to where we were staying. While my son was chasing crabs along the shore, my daughter had found herself some new friends and the group of girls was building sandcastles only a few meters from where I was sitting. I was watching the kids while Grandma was reading her book, chatting with my daughter every now and then.
For whatever reason this guy caught my attention. Maybe it was because he was fully dressed, walking along the beach. Maybe it was the way he was looking around. Maybe it was just a mother’s instinct. I didn’t stop watching him. He had a big camera with him and approached the kids and started talking to the girls. I still kept watching but all my senses were on full alert now. Why? I didn’t know then. It was when he touched my daughter’s shoulders that my heart really started racing. And then he took his camera and aimed it at her.
Now, on our travels we often encountered Asian people who wanted to take pictures of our kids. And when you said no, they were always very polite, apologized and didn’t take the picture. Now, don’t get me wrong, this story has nothing to do with the fact that this man was Asian. It could have been any other person too…
When I saw that he was aiming his camera I told him loud enough for him to hear but not too loud to make a scene, to please not take a picture. He then looked at me, smiled and aimed his camera again. I thought that he might have not understood me and said loud and clear “No!” while shaking my head. I guess that’s something you understand no matter what language you speak. He smiled again and aimed his camera again. By now I was up and on my way over, ready to smash the camera in his face.
I looked at him and shouted “No!” for everyone else around us to be heard. Finally he stopped, smiled and walked back from where he came from. I looked at two ladies who were sitting right next to the girls. They looked at me and said: “Well, that was really weird!”
I was glad they did, as I wasn’t sure if I was just being overly protective. I watched him walk off for a moment and then went back to where I was sitting. When my son came over I quickly explained everything to him and asked him to stay alert too.
Only a short moment later the man came back. This time with a buddy of his, who had a small digital camera with him. They walked pass the girls, not without a short chat with them, and again, touching my daughter on her shoulder. When they were a couple of meters away from the group of girls. The Asian guy positioned himself in a manner which allowed his buddy to take a picture of the girls without it being obvious. Now, I take a lot of pictures myself and I have an idea of how you angle cameras to take certain shots.
In that moment I got up and positioned myself between my girl and them. To make sure they only get a picture of me and not of her. I felt helpless, as my husband was still not back from the meeting. My phone was in my beach bag and Grandma was not paying attention. I looked at the two ladies who were sitting close by. They were watching as well. When one of them said to me, how weird the entire situation seems to her and that she was a professional photographer and was sure they were not taking pics of themselves, I knew I had to act.
I simply said: “I wish I could get the police here!”
In that moment I saw two officers patrolling the road right next to the beach. Looking back it was probably not the smartest thing to do, as I also didn’t know the two women. But in that moment, I just wanted the cops down there. So I asked the ladies to shield the girls, ran to Grandma, made her get up and go over to my daughter and ran over to the police officers.
When I was there, explaining them everything I saw how the two guys watched me and started heading off. Slowly but surely. I pointed them out to the officers who left right away to follow them.
I was shaking. And I was also doubting myself. What if my reaction was over the top? What if I was totally wrong? And while I was doubting me, that woman came running up to me and asked me if my chat to the police was about those two Asian guys. When I said yes, she told me that she had watched them walking along the beach, taking pictures of little girls, big girls and babies in prams…
There was no picture of my girl on the SIM card of both cameras. But there apparently were plenty of pictures of girls and babies. And girls behinds, lying in the sand…
That was the day I changed my idea about people taking pictures of children that are not theirs, even if their children are in the picture too. It was the day I changed my idea about posting pictures of my children online. It was the day I apologized to my husband for doubting him in this regard.
Unfortunately there are creeps out there. In many cases we can’t do anything and we probably don’t even know anything. I guess it’s better this way. There are little things we can do though, to make the lives of our kids safer. And if it means to say no to someone who wants to take a picture of your child, so be it. I go the old fashioned way and send prints of my pictures to my parents and the kids godparents. And still I have to trust that nothing goes wrong.
The feeling I had that day on the beach is something I never want to experience again. Listen to your gut. Listen to your instinct. Don’t just be polite. And teach your children to be alert to. To always watch out and not to fall for anything.