Every time there's a horrendous story about kidnapping or child molestation, America loses another ounce of freedom. The Cleveland situation in which three young girls were held in sexual slavery for 10 years is a perfect example of my statement. Although kidnapping by strangers is rare in the U.S.A., the shocking media accounts of stories like Cleveland make a deep public impression.
According to the FBI, 411 Americans were abducted by strangers in 2012. The primary motive for the abductions was sexual assault, and in the case of missing children, 89 percent of them are murdered by their kidnappers, according to the Washington State Attorney General's Office. So the numbers are very small, but the outcomes are very severe.
Twenty years ago in America, children could play unsupervised in most neighborhoods. I grew up on Long Island about 30 miles from New York City and was out of my house more than I was in it. I had a gang of junior hoodlums, and we played sports and games constantly. My mother and father were actually relieved when I went out to play, knowing that I would be annoying people other than them.
As far as I know, nobody was ever abducted in Levittown back in the 1960s, and it was teeming with kids. The Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932 pierced the national consciousness, but up until about 20 years ago, most suburban and rural streets were considered safe.
Now nobody's safe, or so it seems. Parents rarely let children play on their own. Playdates and organized activities rule. The urchins are deprived of creating their own playtime agendas, problem solving without adult supervision, and thinking up crazy, fun games. Playtime in Levittown usually consisted of dodging, kicking, batting or shooting a ball. Plus, there were games of running around smashing into each other. That was called ring-a-levio.
It is important for children to feel secure, to grow up safe. So it is not unwise to keep close track of kids these days. Kidnapping and molestation may be rare, but it happens, and it's a life-altering experience. The cliche goes "better to be safe than sorry." And it's true.
It is also true that we were a much freer nation back when stories like Cleveland were not driven by the news media 24/7. The evildoers have robbed us of security and have created massive apprehension. Many schools now have armed guards, cameras are everywhere, and children are suspicious. The predators have forced us to guard the kids.
And so they stay inside far more than I did. They become addicted to machines that provide them with easy stimulation via games in which they never lose or get bruised. The urchins sit there and stare at a screen full of high-tech opium that quickly overwhelms their senses. Rain or shine, the Net is always there.
Fear and high-tech mania have changed our country in ways most of us can't even comprehend. And every time there is a story like Cleveland, our independence takes a hit. We are living in a brave new world, for sure. But I liked it better back when.
Veteran TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show ''The O'Reilly Factor.'' Visit his website at www.billoreilly.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/billoreilly.