This month two twelve-year-old Wisconsin girls invited a friend of the same age for a sleepover. The next day they went to the woods (of course) to play a game of hide-and-seek, or so the friend thought. Instead she became the victim of a near-deadly union of fact and fiction when her ‘friends’ stabbed her 19 times.
Fortunately she survived and is in a stable position; her friends are now awaiting trial for her attempted murder. All three girls’ lives have been irrevocably altered. When questioned about the attack the girls said they did it to please ‘Slenderman’, the sinister creation of a horror-story website. The moderator of the site insists that it is not to blame, “Most people don’t watch Hannibal and turn into serial killers,”, but who is responsible when fictional creations cross over into fact in young people’s minds, with such horrific results?
It is a question that arises every time a child commits a heinous crime, and while many might suggest that there is a link between what is read, watched or heard by children, and their behaviour, Glenn Sparks of Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication says that “It’s unlikely that any particular aggressive act has a single cause. Aggressive behavior happens for all kinds of reasons. It has complicated causes, and it’s most often the case that there’s more than one cause.”
Sparks reminds us that it rare for simple fixes to be the answer to incidents such as the Slenderman stabbings. He goes on to say that “censorship or taking freedom of expression away from artists or even people who create fictional characters doesn’t seem to be the answer.”
However, an Ohio mother who was stabbed by her 13-year-old daughter in a second Slenderman attack last week might beg to differ.
DCWodehouse edit, 24th June 2014: read this article from The Telegraph The 10 Most Shocking Books for Children which lists unhappy endings and villains