Washington mom Kathy Wolcott realized that she needed a game plan — and quick — when she noticed a man snapping cell phone pics of her son as they shopped in Walmart. She confronted him right away and poked through his phone's gallery, and she saw row after row of kids that he'd taken photos of at the same store.
Wolcott was, unsurprisingly, really upset by this discovery. After the man got nervous and took off, she was able to get a store employee's attention, and they wrote down his license plate number and called 911. To her surprise, however, after the police tracked him down, they then told her that there was nothing they could do — taking photos of kids in public is not illegal.
Sequim Deputy Police Chief Sheri Crain agreed that while this was an unfortunate event, it wasn't exactly a crime. She notes that since many people have cell phones, photos are going to be taken and it's just a facet of modern life.
And that is an excellent, important point. How many times have you taken your phone out and inadvertently pointed it at someone or their child? Whether you're taking a selfie or poking around on Facebook, a hyper-aware parent may misconstrue your intentions and you can get the police called on you — or have your face smeared on social media.
Thankfully, stranger abductions are uncommon — the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates they're just 3.1 percent of the cases it handles — and while a keen sense of awareness of what is going on around you is always a good idea, starting a witch hunt because someone seems to be taking a photo of your kid may not be the best way to go.
According to the American Society of Media Photographers, "Yes, you can photograph strangers in public places, unless you do it to such an extent and in such a way that you become a harasser or nuisance to the public." They do mention that indoor public places may have their own set of rules about photography that you should know before you start snapping pics.
It's hard to blame Wolcott for her feelings of violation and distress, particularly in light of how she says this man had scads of photos of other kids who were also shopping at Walmart. But it's important to note that in most cases, if someone takes a photo of your kid (even if he's on a sex offender registry), they're likely not breaking any laws.
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