The Media and Tori Stafford

If you live in Canada, you’re probably very aware that the trial for the abduction and murder of Tori Stafford has just started.  For those of you not in Canada, Tori was a beautiful Grade 3 student in April 2009 when she disappeared on the way home from school. Her body was discovered three months later, 130 km’s from her home.  The crime was committed by two people, a female who pleaded guilty and is serving a sentence for first degree murder, and a male who, having pled not guilty, is currently on trial.

The next few months are going to be exhausting for the family, and the media circus is already in full swing.  I read that they began lining up at 5:30am for court and can only imagine how that entire town, not to mention the family, will be affected by the publicity.

Some, of course, will be drawn to the spotlight and sadly enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, and others will hide at all costs to avoid them.  My concern, though, is for Tori’s brother.   I’m not sure, but he must be 13 or 14 now, the same age Ian was when we were in court for Stefanie’s trial.

There will be so much about the court process and the fickleness of the media that he won’t understand and yet too much that he will—far too well.

This homicide is one of the worst nightmares for parents everywhere, even more so than Stefanie’s fate.   Last night, after reading the paper, James made some comments about the girls and as I watched him wrestle with his rage I contemplated how one event like this can hold an entire country of parents hostage.

Because we struggle, perhaps more than most, with an on-going hyper-vigilance around our children, I hoped getting some perspective for both of us, and others, might help.

This is in NO WAY meant to detract from the horror that is the abduction and murder of Tori Stafford.  I have been unable to eat anything other than some tea and soup since I began reading the papers—just sick for her, her family and everyone affected.   I wish, as I’m sure most people do, that I could help in some small way.

Here are the numbers.

In Canada, there are approximately 550 homicides a year, and in the US, over 14,500.

In the U.S., the Department of Justice indicates that there are 100-130 cases of stranger abductions per year of children.  Their stats separate known and unknown assailants whereas the Canadian statistics only differentiate between parental and “other” (which could mean uncle, brother, neighbour etc..).  These cases are usually committed for sexual purposes (49%) and in over 40% of the cases, the victim is murdered.

I was only able to find stats from the RCMP and they show that Canada has an average of less than five stereotypical abductions annually.  Of those five, in the years 2000-2001 there was only one case of a complete stranger abduction/murder and four where the assailants were related to, or known to the family.

What I know, too clearly, is that those numbers aren’t reassuring when it’s your child, but what they do, is serve to remind us that child abduction and murder in Canada is rare.

What concerns me is that the more focus that is given, the more it is sensationalized, the more energy that surrounds it, the more likely it will happen more frequently.  I worry that people who are already on the edge of committing such a horrible crime will be drawn to the story, fixate on the publicity the accused is getting, and perhaps be tipped off the fence to offend, themselves.

There in an insatiable thirst in society these days for more and more drama, more and more violence, and the media, as any business, needs ratings for profit and uses whatever they can to achieve that objective.

But when violence hits in real life, it’s not glamorous or exciting.  It’s real, dirty and ugly.   Are we so over-stimulated all the time that we need such drama to feel anything at all?

We need to turn off our televisions, especially in the presence of our children.  We need to recapture the simple pleasures in life, connect with them and have them fill us up.  We need to focus on friends and family and everyday occurrences that can bring us real joy, rather than always looking for that next thrill from negative dramatic images.

It is my sincere belief that it is our responsibility, as parents to teach our children to be street smart and aware, but not paranoid and terrified.  We need to give them the tools to make wise choices and know boundaries, but also to embrace life and be a kid.  We need to be examples by deeds rather than allowing them to be bombarded by the media.

Tori’s family needs time to heal, time to mourn and some space.  They don’t need the media circus, the added drama, the hysteria and craziness that so much media brings to any situation.  It’s hard enough to sit through a trial without having to run the gauntlet just to get home.




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