"My eagerness to try on the straitjacket overruled the little common sense I had"


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I fell for this when I was a kid at summer camp. “Bet if I tie you to this tree you can’t escape in under five minutes!” Oh yeah? Doubt my escaping skills, huh? Watch me…

…helplessly get depantsed in front of the camp nurse’s pretty daughter.


Why do people always think the stranger wants to kill them?


Is that a bad thing?


Millions of years of evolution in the wild state builds up a healthy xenophobia.


Unfortunately, I’ve been in exactly that type of situation too. It’s a weird simultaneous feeling of absolute panic and clear-headed “holy shit, how did I do this to myself?”

Now that I think about it, two different times, and two different dangers, 16 years apart. Whew.


Not all the strangers. But the ones who come over to teenagers’ homes and then bind them helpless while casually discussing psychopaths and Paedophiles? I’d file that under “worth considering the possibility.”


NSFW link!


As much as I hate the sex-negativity of “NSFW”, this is probably generally unsafe. It’s a forum about self bondage, which is actually a thing!


Because sometimes they do.


Yeah, rational thinking at work.

By the same logic that makes most of us more afraid of terrorism than of crossing the street, we assume that adult strangers are usually serial killers.

Here, we have an anecdote about a minor allowing himself to be straightjacketed by an adult stranger. So, when the evil stranger in the story turns out to be exactly as harmless as he claimed to be, that somehow doesn’t fit with our assumption.

If we were rational beings, we’d have to modify our assumptions slightly. But fortunately, we’re human, so we can use this anecdote for a nice article about the dangers of serial killers.

I bet that for more then half of the people who read this, their irrational fear of strangers will have been strengthened rather than weakened.


Serial killers are pretty rare, but sexual predators are pretty common—something like 1 in 6 women and 1 in 30 men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. A moment of “oh my God, I’m a teenager who just invited a strange man to my house and now he has me tied up helpless and he’s talking about murderers and Paedophiles” doesn’t seem out of place.


A moment of panic is perfectly rational.
What I consider irrational is using that story as an example to illustrate how dangerous the world is.

In retrospect, the moment of panic turned out to be unfounded in that particular instance.
While that doesn’t mean that there are no sexual predators, that should decrease rather than increase a rational person’s estimate of how likely it is for a strange man to be a sexual predator.

Simple Bayesian estimation:
P(the next strange man I meet will be a sexual predator) > P(the next strange man I meet will be a sexual predator | I gave the last strange man I met every opportunity and he still turned out harmless)

Given that the vast majority of cases of sexual assault happen among people who know each other and even within families, the estimate of “1 in 30” is probably too high in this context. And I think that most people’s estimate of the frequency of “predatory strangers” way too high, but most people will be reluctant to think rationally about it, because “Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?”


This is a perfect example of stranger danger, that the kid didn’t get murdered is not evidence of the contrary.

The message is don’t put yourself in risky situations with someone who could be unhinged, and the person was rather. “Don’t trust strangers” is an overbroad statement, don’t allow an adult to tie you up when you’re alone is probably a fairly decent bit of advice.


I fully agree with the advice to not allow yourself to be tied up by a stranger when alone. But the fact that the kid didn’t get murdered is evidence to the contrary. Elementary Bayesian reasoning.

If your initial estimate (the prior probability) of the chance of getting bad things done to you by a stranger is not excessively high to begin with, then “bad things not happening” is only weak evidence. However, if you are convinced that you have a 99% chance of being raped in that situation, a single case of “nothing happening” should make you lower your estimate significantly, in the absence of any other information.

A stranger with a straightjacket is a rather extreme case, but the same faulty reasoning can be applied whenever the evidence doesn’t fit your preconceived opinion.

Example: “If that particular member of minority group X didn’t cheat/rob/kill you, that’s all the more reason to be more careful around them next time”. Done. Prejudice reinforced.

And that’s why I am opposed to faulty reasoning even if I agree with the advice not to let yourself be tied up by a stranger. Faulty reasoning can and will be used against people if we allow it to thrive.


I bought a modern regulation straitjacket while working at a magic store as a teenager and learned how to escape from it. Years later, my girlfriend discovers it in my possessions and gets a little freaked out thinking I’m into some weird stuff. I am, but only the magic weird stuff. Anyway - she then tells me how she had been committed to an institution when she was a young teenager and the first thing they did was throw her in a padded room in a straitjacket similar to the one I own. I took the opportunity to teach her how to escape from straitjackets and handcuffs, and it was a highly emotionally cathartic experience for her.

We’re married now and even though that straitjacket has sat in a box for years, she won’t let me sell it.


She’s a keeper. Don’t let her get away from you…


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