Mass hysteria is a form of groupthink, in which several people with something in common begin to think in the same way. In mass hysteria, the group members all develop a common fear that often spirals into a panic. The group members feed off each other’s emotional reactions, causing the panic to escalate.
As a father of a baby son, I am naturally concerned when there seem to be a recent spike in alleged child abduction sightings in Singapore. Nonetheless, I am sceptical on how true these allegations are and am more inclined to believe they are the results of mass hysteria.
1. Singapore law is extremely harsh on kidnappers. Kidnapping is classified as a capital offense in Singapore, punishable by the death penalty. It would be extremely stupid for criminals to commit kidnapping for monetary gain when their lives can be at stake if they are caught.
2. Many of the alleged sightings are in HDB estates like Tampines and Ang Mo Kio, involving random children. This do not make sense from a criminal perspective – if one was willing to put his or her life at risk to commit kidnapping, why not go for children of parents who can pay higher ransom? Naturally, the target should be from more prime real estates like Bukit Timah and Holland Village.
3. Many of the alleged kidnappers were described as of China nationality. Many Singaporeans harbour a strong air of suspicion against China residents in Singapore, due to some of our government policies over the past few years which seem to favour foreigners over locals. The suspicion could have been irrationally channeled to hatred and a willingness to attribute negativity like crime to the China residents here.
4. Similar kidnapping rumours have been circulating in Hong Kong as early as in September 2005, during the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland. Even till today, the theme attraction continues to be plagued with unsubstantiated stories of child abduction by China nationals. In June 2011, a Singaporean couple alleged their daughter was “almost kidnapped” by two female China nationals at Hong Kong Disneyland. The claim was unverified and unsubstantiated. It could be the catalyst in “importing” such alleged child abduction into Singapore.
What then, should Singapore parents do?
Stay calm, don’t panic.
If you are a responsible parent, you would have taught your child not to accept gifts from strangers or follow them to unfamiliar places. You would also have taken the necessary precautions to safe-guard his movements and daily routines.
If these measures are in place, one need not be overly concerned. Just keep up the good work you are doing as a parent.
Having said that, I think our relevant authorities like the Singapore Police Force and the Ministry of Home Affairs should do something to address this growing hysteria though.
Act fast, pick the thorn out of the flesh before the wound gets too big for any medication.
If there is truth in the allegations, take actions. If they are unfound rumours, engage the public and advise everyone against rumour-mongering.
Do you remember the mass hysteria over the many alleged Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) in the 80s?
Satanic ritual abuse, sometimes known as ritual abuse, ritualistic abuse, organised abuse, sadistic ritual abuse and other variants, refers to a moral panic that originated in the United States in the 1980s, spreading throughout the country and eventually to many parts of the world, before subsiding in the late 1990s. Allegations of SRA involved reports of physical and sexual abuse of individuals in the context of occult or Satanic rituals. At its most extreme definition, SRA involved a worldwide conspiracy involving the wealthy and powerful of the world elite in which children were abducted or bred for sacrifices, pornography and prostitution.
This many sound really far-fetched, but many people were scare stiff by SRA rumours in the 80s.
Going back even further into Singapore’s history, have you heard of the term “Koro”?
Koro is a culture-specific syndrome from Southeast Asia in which the person has an overpowering belief that his penis (or other genitalia) is shrinking and will shortly disappear. Also known as shrinking penis, the syndrome is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
A koro epidemic struck Singapore in October 1967 for about ten days. Newspapers initially reported that some people developed koro after eating the meat of pigs inoculated with anti-swine-flu vaccine. Rumours relating eating pork and koro spread after a further report of an inoculated pig dying from penile retraction. The cases reported amounted to 97 in a single hospital unit within one day, at five days after the original news report. Government and medical officials alleviated the outbreak only by public announcements over television and in the newspapers.
Koro sounds really stupid now isn’t it? Yet in the 60s, many Singaporeans believe in it!
I hope this child abduction thing do not develop into another wikipedia entry on examples of mass hysteria like SRA and Koro.
Fellow Singaporeans and fellow parents; again, stay calm, don’t panic! Don’t spread the fear until the abduction rumours are substantiated.