Parents Give School an “F” in Bully Policy

April 18th, 2014

School administrators in Lincoln, Nebraska are scrambling to do damage control after students were sent home with a list of instructions on how deal with bullying. And they should be, because whoever is responsible for authoring and dispensing this list to children is, at best, dangerously ignorant of what bullying is. At worst, they are fostering an atmosphere of violence and fear which can have lasting, harmful effects.

We have learned much about bullying in the past several years. It has been recognized, not as a rite of passage that children need to go through to “toughen up,” or as normal “kids will be kids” behavior to be tolerated… but as a deviant, defiant, criminal activity. ‘Think that sounds a bit dramatic? Think again: bullies are predators in training. When they engage in this activity, they follow a criminal mindset–seeking out targets, zeroing in on them, and moving in for the kill. If allowed to continue unchecked, their actions typically escalate in severity and number of victims. By the time school bullies reach adulthood, many have graduated into full-fledged criminal activity.

There are over 2 million bullies right now in our schools. Nearly 3 million students are threatened or injured with guns, knives, or other weapons, physically assaulted, verbally abused, and/or have personal property stolen, damaged, or destroyed by bullies.

Schools and community organizations are still struggling to find the best ways to handle bullying. But thankfully, it is now understood that aiding and supporting the victims is of equal, if not greater, importance. So, you can imagine the outrage of so many parents of 5th graders at Zeman Elementary School in Lincoln, Nebraska, when their children brought home a flier stating that, if they are targeted by such predators-in-training, they should, among other things,

  1. not verbally defend themselves (“The bully is our friend. We defend ourselves against enemies.”)
  2. not to feel fear, even if the bully is verbally harassing or physically threatening or assaulting them (“Fear is something we feel toward enemies, not buddies.”)
  3. not to physically defend themselves (“We attack enemies, not friends.”)
  4. show they are physically wounded, but not angry because (“We want the bully to feel sorry for us and apologize. If we’re angry, he won’t feel sorry for us and apologize.”)
  5. not to “tell” on the bully (“Would we keep our friends if we tattled on them?”)

As a radKIDS Instructor, a teacher, an adult, and a human being, this entire list of “guidelines” makes me angry. All this talk about “friends” and “enemies” is ridiculous. Telling a child how they should feel is wrong. Comparing a child’s reporting an incident of bullying to “tattling” is wrong. And taking away their right to defend themselves from harm is gutting.

Whoever compiled this list of nonsense clearly has no understanding of bullying. Fortunately, parents of Zeman Elementary’s 5th graders are on top of the issue, and have called BS on the flier and its directives. Now the school itself needs to step forward and right the wrongs.

Power to the Word? Or Power to YOU?

February 6th, 2014

The other day, I was talking to a young lady who was interested in taking my Women’s Self-Defense class. She wanted to know if I thought it would be a good idea. “Absolutely. You’re in high school, you’re starting to go out on dates, to parties with lots of people you might not know well, and you’ll be around people who are drinking alcohol.”

“You teach how to fight?” she asked. When I told her that we do, her excitement grew. “Cool! What else is in the class?” I described that we cover the mindset of the attacker, how to recognize threatening behaviors… rape…

“RAPE?” She threw her arms out in front of her, then turned her head away from me and hugged herself, shutting down any further conversation. The word scared her so much, she no longer wanted to know how to protect herself, how to fight off an attacker, or how to be safe just walking through a parking lot to her car.

As a RAD Instructor, I get this response from women fairly frequently. But here’s the thing: Rape is a word. So is igloo; so is fern. But these other words don’t strike fear in a woman’s heart, don’t send chills up her spine, like the word rape does. Clearly, this is because when we hear the word rape, we imagine the crime that it names. We think of the terror, the violence, the degradation inherent in the act, and we want to distance ourselves from it as much as possible. It’s a natural survival technique.

Unfortunately, it’s also harmful, and can lead to death by extreme violence, or physical, emotional, and psychological damage that can last a lifetime.

RAD stands for Rape Aggression Defense. Our techniques combat the kind of assaults women encounter against one or more perpetrators who use anything from verbal coercion to physical violence to commit the crime of forced sexual relations. And the word RAPE is right there in the center of our logo. Anytime a RAD Women’s Self-Defense class is being held, participants will see that logo–and that word–on our registration forms, self-defense manuals, class eval sheets, and on the uniforms we wear as Instructors. Some women cringe at it. Others have asked RAD directly to remove it from their logo, because of the negative reaction it causes.

And that’s exactly why RAD put it in their logo to begin with–and why it stays there. The point is not to upset the women in our classes (some of whom are rape survivors). It’s to take the power away from the word. Think about it: if just seeing the letters R-A-P-E renders a woman so fearful that she freezes, what will happen to her when an attacker grabs her and threatens to kill her if she doesn’t do exactly what he says? RAD’s point is this: if you can’t say even the word… if you won’t acknowledge that it exists… you can’t fight it.

RAD takes the strength away from the word RAPE and gives that power to women.

Time Over Content?

November 26th, 2013

The other day, I received a call from a young woman representing a small women’s group here in the city. The members of the group had expressed an interest in learning self-defense; could I teach them? Absolutely, I replied. As we began discussing potential dates and times for a Saturday or Sunday (their preferred days), the caller stopped me. “Just what all is involved in your class, and how long do you need to cover it?”

I explained that we taught how to recognize a dangerous individual before it’s too late, de-escalation techniques, blocking and parrying, various hand strikes, proper punching and kicking techniques, as well as how to break strangle holds, wrist grabs, bear hugs, etc. And that we cover ground fighting and rape reversals, among other things.

“Well,” the group leader said, “that certainly is… a lot of material.” Yes, RAD Women’s Basic Self-Defense is a very thorough course. It has to be to effectively combat the broad spectrum of violence perpetrated against women in our society. But it was more than the caller and her group wanted. She asked how long I would need to pass all this information on to her group of 12-15. After all, “it’s important to keep in mind that they’re taking time out from their busy lives for this class.”

“For a group that size, we can offer a one-day workshop. We will complete the course in 6 hours. Three hours for the first half, maybe a short break for lunch, and three hours for the second half.”

“I see,” she replied. “That might be more time than they’re able to give. Keep in mind that a lot of these women are moms. They have to run the kids to team practice, piano lessons, etc. And some of them work on weekends. What can you teach them in two hours?”

Two hours? “Yes,” she stated firmly. “Time is more important than content.”

Rather than answer her question, I had to ask one myself: “With all due respect, ma’am, do the members of your group want to know how they can save their lives in case of an attack by a violent criminal? Or do they just want to pretend they know? Because in 6 hours, we can teach them how to break a hold, neutralize an adversary, and escape. In 2 hours, we can’t teach them anything, but they can kid themselves that they’re safe.”

When it comes to self-defense, there are no shortcuts. We’re happy to work with people, to set up classes around hectic schedules; to break up classes into multiple meetings if necessary. But knowing how to punch and kick with maximum effectiveness, to be able to rely on muscle memory to execute the technique… these are not skills that can be grasped by reading a book or watching a video. Nor can they be learned in a quick demonstration class. They have to be done, and done again, and again. Not slowly, and not against an imaginary “Bad Guy.” RAD understands the importance of dynamic impact–striking the specific targets of a padded attacker or martial arts dummy at full force, full power.  And we give each woman in the class personal attention and instruction to hone her technique.

I know you’re busy. You’ve got work, the kids, the house, your life! And learning how to fight for your life takes time and practice. But it’s not about giving us more time than you can spare. Give yourself  the time; we’ll bring the content.

Your Cell Phone is Fooling You

September 30th, 2013

I taught a class of bright young college women over the weekend. They were smart, strong, and aware that sometimes, the best defense is a good, well, defense. What impressed me most about this group was just how inseparable they are from their phones. When I talked about how to keep safe while walking through the city after dark, one young lady assured me she had this situation locked up: “I talk to my mom on my cell phone the whole time. That way, nobody will mess with me!”

When I asked her to explain how this keeps her safe, she explained that, should anything happen to her, her mother would know where she was (approximately) and would immediately dial 911. “And then?” I asked. Then, she went on, the police would come and the attacker would run away.

That would be great–if that’s how crime and crime-fighting actually worked. However, this scenario she has imagined is not only giving her a false sense of security; it’s putting her in danger. One thing muggers, rapists, and others who prey on women look for is someone who is distracted. Chatting on the phone with mom, recalling the events of the day, this young woman was not looking around her, checking the reflections of store windows to see if anyone was following her, glancing about to see if anything looked amiss. She made it easy for someone to walk right up behind her and grab her.

And what about that grab? Let’s say she had just finished telling her mother, “By the way, I’m walking past the ice cream shop on Main Street now. So, can you believe what Roger said to me today…” Next, her mom hears her scream, or maybe she just hears the phone drop on the ground. She takes a few seconds, trying to figure out what’s happening. Could her daughter really be in some kind of trouble? Maybe she just tripped on uneven pavement, and the phone slipped out of her hand… But she’s not coming back on the line. Suspecting the worst, mom calls 911.

The dispatcher answers on the first ring, questions mom about her emergency, and notifies the correct authorities. The local police are on their way–speeding to the last known location of the young woman: the ice cream shop on Main Street. Sirens blaring and lights flashing, they get there in under two minutes, jump out of the car, and look around for our student.

But where is she? Would the attacker follow her for blocks, close the distance behind her, sneak up and clap a hand over her mouth, grab her and then… stay there? Would he remain in plain view of the public, or would he forcefully take her to an isolated spot, a place where he can be free to perpetrate whatever crime against her he favors?

The police in this scenario arrived on the scene within 2 minutes of the initial attack, which is pretty darned fast. But as I asked the student, “What do you suppose would be happening to you during that time? Those might just be the longest 2 minutes of your life.” She realized that, while it would be reassuring to have a continuous live connection to Emergency Dispatch, 1) she never really had one to begin with,  and 2) she created more danger for herself talking on her phone than had she simply looked around as she walked.

 

Other thoughts on Cell Phones and “Safety”:

Another girl in this class said that she didn’t chat on her cell phone while she walked, because she knew she could be distracted. Instead, she kept her finger poised over the setting she had for 911 on Speed Dial. She wanted to know if I agreed that she was well-prepared for an emergency. I did think she was wise not to talk on her phone as she walked, and told her so. But I asked if she’d ever pocket-dialed anyone, or accidentally called the wrong number on speed dial. She had, and understood how keeping a finger hovering over “911” could be problematic. Then, I asked about a deeper issue: if she was so concerned about her safety that she felt she needed to keep her finger a centimeter away from calling for help, might it not be a better, safer plan to find a different way to get home from work every night? Your cell phone can’t protect you from danger. Instead, take the bus, walk with friends,or maybe change your shift. If you feel that the only thing keeping you safe is luck and a speedy connection to Emergency Dispatch, your brain is telling you that something needs to change.

 

Marketers seem to enjoy playing on the fears of young women. Several of the college girls boasted to me that they had locator apps on their phones. We had just concluded a segment on date rape and how to prevent being victimized this way. One student proudly explained to me that with this app they all have, “The whole group of us can go to a party, or out to a club, and we always know where each other is. We just check the app and can tell if everyone is still at the house where the party is, or still at the club!”

When I pointed out that what they were actually finding was the location of their friend’s phone–not necessarily their friend–their faces fell in realization. Relying on cell phones to stay safe is a dangerous mistake. No app can take the place of sound judgment and caution–and, if needed, a well-placed strike to a vulnerable body part.

In Case of Rape, Throw Up??

February 20th, 2013

Has Colorado lost its collective mind? First, Democratic State Representative Joe Salazar warns that women should not carry firearms for personal protection because, wait for it… they might shoot someone. “[I]f you feel like you’re going to be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, then you pop out that gun and… pop a round at somebody.”

He would have us believe that he knows what women are thinking and whether they are really in danger, even if the women themselves don’t. In a life-threatening situation, he wants us to wait for others to come save us, recommending we make use of call-boxes, whistles, and ‘safe zones.’ In other words, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head, missy. You just wait for a big, strong man to come riding in on a white steed and rescue you from another man who wants to bash your face into the sidewalk, rip your clothes off with a blade, torture and maybe kill you. Heh, heh.”

As if that insult to women’s intelligence and judgment wasn’t bad enough, earlier this week, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs posted a 10-point “safety list” entitled What to Do If You Are Attacked. They refer to these so-called techniques as “crime prevention tips,” but the fact that they are all reactions to being attacked, rather than proactive measures to avoid an attack illustrate their lack of effectiveness in a rape/mugging/domestic violence situation.

Topping the list is “Be realistic about your ability to protect yourself.” This patronizing warning tells women they just aren’t smart enough or strong enough to defend themselves against an aggressive male, hell-bent on harming them. It’s also downright untrue. Hundreds of thousands of women realize that they have more than enough power in their bodies and minds to save themselves in an attack. They understand, first and foremost, that they are not weak, helpless waifs whose lot is to suffer simply because some criminal has chosen to mess with them. They also know that a solid punch, kick, or elbow strike to certain vulnerable targets will put a dent in an assailant’s plans and afford them an opportunity to escape.

Also recommended as “survival techniques” on the University’s list are vomiting and urinating, to convince the attacker to leave the intended victim alone. So, seeing a woman doubled over, hurling in the bushes, he might think… what? “Oh, gee, she’s having a bad enough time already. I’ll go ruin someone else’s life.” Not likely.

Also, I must point out that it is difficult to force oneself to vomit or urinate on demand–especially in a life-and-death situation such as a rape attempt. Not to mention, while one is trying to accomplish these acts, one can neither fight off the attacker nor run to safety.

Two of the tips on the list actually contradict each other: “Yelling, hitting, or biting may give you a chance to escape. Do it!” is immediately followed by “Understand that some actions on your part may lead to more harm.” In other words, little lady, let him do whatever he wants. Don’t try to fight the Big Bad Man or you’ll just make it worse for yourself. The US Department of Justice reports that women who actively defend themselves against a rapist are more likely to minimize the attack and/or escape than women who don’t fight back. And, they are no more likely to be injured than women who don’t fight back. Note: in some instances, compliance may be used as a survival technique. For example, women who have been told by a rapist with a weapon, “Just be quiet or I’ll hurt your kids” have used compliance to save their lives and those of their children. However, compliance as an option is not the same thing as making yourself helpless in the face of sheer hell.

There are quite a few women’s self-defense classes available on college campuses, at martial arts dojos, in cities large and small throughout the country. Most are good; some are excellent. The instructor who developed these so-called “survival strategies” is not someone I would want teaching my sister, my daughter, or my friends. These tips would seem to teach how to become a victim rather than a strong, empowered woman.

 

 

How Much Would You Pay to Save Your Child’s Life?

December 7th, 2012

Just for a moment, think of the unthinkable: someone has kidnapped your child. You receive a letter stating that your child will be released unharmed if you pay the ransom of $10,000. Would you be willing to do it? Of course you would! Any loving parent would move mountains to bring their baby home safe.

What if the ransom demand was for $50,000–or $100,000? Even if you didn’t have it, you would find a way to get it. You would do everything you could to make sure your precious child was returned to you, alive and well.

Or would you? Perhaps you would say, “Nope, sorry. I just can’t spare that right now… the car needs new brakes… the dog just had surgery at the vet… and my older child is going to need braces.” Would you tell the kidnapper you just don’t have extra cash to ensure your child’s safety?

What if the kidnapper said, “I will release your baby back into your arms for $75.”

I get a lot of requests to teach radKIDS classes–to neighborhood groups, troops of Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, sports teams, after-school and camp groups, etc. When I tell people what we cover in the classes–that their children will learn how to tell a Bad Guy from a Stranger, what to do if someone offers them “magic candy,” when it’s okay to knock down and shatter the big-screen TV in the store, and that we will also teach them physical skills that can allow them to break away from an attacker and escape–the parents are very excited. They recognize that, with over 100 bona fide saves from abduction attempts and countless saves from sexual predators, radKIDS saves children’s lives.

They are eager to work a class into their families’ busy schedule. Then, I tell them there is a per-child fee. It covers the costs of new equipment (We use a lot of equipment and props in the class to make the scenarios as realistic, yet fun and non-threatening, for the kids as possible.) It also covers the Activity Books we give each child, to help them remember at home the important concepts we teach in class. Part of the fee pays for the radKIDS Family Manuals, given to parents/guardians of each child. While explaining everything we teach in class, these Manuals also serve as a free ticket for that child to take radKIDS again–as often as they like, anywhere in the world that radKIDS is taught, for free, until they turn 13. And finally, the fee allows me to pay my Assistant Instructor for sharing her time, knowledge, and skills. Because of her, I can teach more kids better than if I taught alone.

I used the amount of $75 above as a low “ransom” number. My radKIDS classes actually cost less than that. Considering that kids learn information and skills that have saved other kids from violent abductors and child sexual predators, that’s a pretty good investment.

Still, people are disheartened when I tell them about the fee. They seem to expect that, because this is such a great service we’re providing, we should provide it at no charge. (Even though, in actuality, all classes but the first set are free.) So, let me ask: Do you expect other service-providers, those with specialized knowledge, skills, and equipment, to donate them to you for free? Your family doctor? Dentist?  Even your child’s school teacher is paid for their service and specialized education. You pay your babysitter by the hour, your mechanic by the job. All of these people are important; each enhances your family’s life in their own way.

On a personal note, I must admit it’s frustrating when a parent is interested in signing their child up for the class, only to pull back in surprise, disappointment, even disgust that I “have the nerve to charge a fee.” They seem to think I’m using their children to take advantage of them. Granted, in some cities, officers on the local police force are able to give radKIDS classes for free. This is because they’re subsidized by their Departments. That is not available in this community, nor do I personally have such support. And that’s okay. When I was training to be a radKIDS Instructor, my supervisor chuckled and told us, “You’re never gonna get rich doing this!”  But we don’t do it to get rich. We do it to save your child’s life. How much is that worth to you?

Safe Does Not Mean Scared

December 6th, 2012

I remember an old Oprah show, in which she was interviewing Child Safety Expert Ken Wooden. Wooden has been a tireless advocate for child safety for years. You can check out his work at http://www.childluresprevention.com/about/kwooden.asp

In this episode of Oprah’s program, he was demonstrating how easy it is for a predator to get a child to walk off with him, even when the child has been taught for years “never to go anywhere with strangers!!” In example after example, Wooden would approach a child at a playground and, just by acting friendly and polite, he would win the kids’ trust and lead them off (to a pre-determined location)–all while their parents watched nearby on video monitors.

Time after time, each child took the hand of the “nice man” and walked away with him to “look for a lost puppy,” or offer some other form of assistance he asked of them. And time after time, the parents were horrified.

“He knows better!”

“I can’t believe she went!” And on and on.

Except for one. Of all the kids on the playground that day who were volunteered by their parents to take part in Wooden’s experiment, only one refused to go with him and, instead, ran to his mother for protection. When Oprah asked this mom what she did differently from the other parents, she said, “I have made him terrified! Absolutely terrified–of other people, of strangers. I don’t care if it affects him later in his life. At least I know he’ll be safe right now, and no one will take him away from me!”

Granted, this mom meant well, although even she understood that her severe scare-tactics could negatively impact her little boy at some point. She thought she was teaching him how to be safe, but really, she was instilling in him all her adult fears of abduction, molestation, and other things we don’t want our children to worry about.

Changing gears for a moment… elementary schools nationwide are pleased to provide DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to their students. DARE is a national program, taught by law enforcement officers, to encourage kids to steer clear of drugs, gangs, and other dangers present in their environment. In a recent DARE class, the police officer told a roomful of 4th grade students that a girl just their age was abducted, beaten, killed, and then eaten by her captor. Whether this event actually took place is beside the point. What is relevant is the fact that this officer thought it appropriate to share such graphic information with a group of 9- and 10-year-old children! (The mother of a student in that classroom called me the next day to inquire about a safety class for her daughter. The child was so distraught after hearing about the murdered girl that she couldn’t eat, refused to go outside to play, and wouldn’t even sleep in her own bed, but insisted on bunking with mom.)

Again, we have an adult’s well-meaning attempt to keep children safe by scaring the daylights out of them. This approach not only doesn’t work, but it causes as many problems as it supposedly eliminates. Parents, guardians, teachers, and all who care for and about children, let me assure you: we do not have to terrify our children to keep them safe! Fear does not mean secure, and certainly, more fear does not lead to greater security.

The child safety experts who designed the program I teach understood that we cannot learn when we’re afraid. The brain is in “fight or flight” mode; it’s not able to take in and make sense of new data. Conversely, when we’re relaxed and having fun, we tend to be at our most creative. This is when we are most able to learn and process important information. Therefore, it is not by accident that the radKIDS program is fun and entertaining for kids. Nor is it merely coincidence that kids finish the program feeling more self-confident and empowered to stay safe than before they started.

You don’t have to terrify your kids to keep them safe. In fact, that approach does more harm than good. There is a better, safer, proven way: give them a radKIDS course and let them have fun finding out all the ways they can stay safe!

Words CAN Hurt You

July 7th, 2012

Susan has been with the Seattle-based marketing firm for 15 years. Her natural friendliness and interest in others make clients gravitate to her. Her ability to pinpoint exactly what will grow their businesses leads them to depend on her. Co-workers describe her as bright and hard-working, but also fun and kind. It’s time for the annual Owners Trip, and they’re all glad that Susan has been invited. She has become invaluable to to the company, and the yearly extravaganza celebrating its successes just wouldn’t feel right without her.

With Howard, the man she has loved for the past two years, and nearly 70 co-workers and their families, she boards a flight to Hawaii. She has worked with many of her fellow employees for so long, she considers them family. So she’s excited about spending the next few days just relaxing with them and Howard.

On their first full day at the resort, the group splits up, some luxuriating on the beach, others taking tours. A few treat themselves to a massage.That evening, they all come together again, filling an entire restaurant by themselves. Savoring drinks out on the pier, they watch the sun set over the water and toast to the good things in life. After a wonderful dinner, they dance the night away.

Ending this perfect day in paradise, Susan and Howard peel off from the others and head back to their room. Things between them have been a bit rocky off and on, but this trip could really help iron things out. A few days to rest and relax, to be together and have fun… it could be just what they need to get back on track.

Except that, a short while later, police and hotel security, responding to calls about a disturbance, burst into their room to find Susan lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood. Howard is kneeling over her, bashing her head in with a 1-inch thick slab of granite table-top. One hour later, she is dead.

Crazy! Horrifying. And, unfortunately, true. On a beautiful island holiday, 44-year-old Susan Brockert was murdered by her boyfriend, Howard Phillip Zimmerman.*

How could such a terrible crime happen? Susan knew Zimmerman well; she had never worried for her safety in his presence. Sure, he had a temper. He was frequently quite verbally abusive to her. But it always stopped there. If he had ever lifted a hand against her, she would have recognized the danger and ended their relationship immediately.

What she didn’t realize was that red danger flags were flying every time he belittled her, every time he mocked her, threatened her or raised his voice to intimidate her. She didn’t realize that there is a continuum of abuse, and that an abuser can change his location on that continuum–along with that of his victim–in the blink of an eye.

Physical abuse may start with pushing or slapping, or it may go right to punching and kicking. It may be preceded by threats and raised fists, or, as in Susan’s case, there may be no warning other than a history of  verbal abuse. But make no mistake: intimidating, insulting, and other forms of spoken abuse nearly always co-exist with the potential for physical violence.

If you ever find yourself in a relationship in which you’re being verbally or otherwise abused, don’t kid yourself that “it’s really not that bad.” Don’t let the abuser drag you down that deadly continuum from name-calling to screaming… to destroying your self-esteem… until you wind up shot, stabbed, beaten… or bashed over the head with a solid granite slab.

 

*Not to be confused with George Zimmerman, accused in the murder of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

 

Teens Don’t Need an App for That

June 19th, 2012

We have become so enamored of our phones and tablets that I sometimes wonder if we could function without them. Whatever we need, “there’s an app for that!” ‘Can’t keep track of appointments? Schedule Planner is there to help. ‘Forgot what to pick up from the supermarket? Just check Grocery List. And, oh, look at that cute guy over there; it sure would be nice to meet him… Hey, with Skout, you can flirt with and meet new people. And it’s safe–it says so right on the app’s homepage: “We go to great lengths to make sure our community is fun and safe.” So it must be true. Just don’t ask the three teens who were sexually assaulted as a result of meeting members of Skout’s “fun and safe community.”

Parents, do you know what’s on your kids’ phones? What apps do they have? What videos are they watching? Who are they texting–and who is texting them? You need to know all of this, because whatever and whoever is on that phone is coming into your house and is part of your child’s life. This is true especially if that “child” is a teenager because so many teens believe, almost by definition, that they can take care of themselves just fine without you butting in. Don’t buy into the argument that they have a “right to privacy” where electronic communication is concerned. Predators thrive on privacy–on seclusion and secrets. And they use Skout to find their next victims.

In Kentucky, a 15-year-old girl willingly met a “friend” she had been flirting with on Skout. He seemed like a great guy, and offered to take her to visit her boyfriend who lived out of town. Imagine her surprise, upon meeting him, to learn that he wasn’t really a teen, but a 37-year-old man. Imagine her terror when he raped her.

In California, a mom called the police to report that her 12-year-old daughter was missing. Using clues from the girl’s cell phone, police located her nearby, in the bedroom of a man twice her age–a man she’d met on Skout.

And in a park in Wisconsin, a 13-year-old boy was rescued from a 21-year-old man who had hit him up on Skout. The man was found performing sexual acts with the boy. 

Granted, Skout has temporarily taken its “teens app” offline to fix the dangerous security holes in its “fun and safe” program. But there are dozens of “flirting” apps available to anyone with a computer or a phone.  They should not be used by anyone under the age of 21. Proud users of Skout and other apps may take offense at this, claiming that ending their online flirting will cause undue pain and suffering to their social lives, not to mention the loss of friendships and “important” connections. My point is this: where kids/teens gather, predators of kids/teens also gather. At the ages of 12… 15… 18… there is so much more to be concerned with than electronically winking at someone they haven’t met. School and outside activities are the most vibrant social network available to them. And at least there, they can see the person they’re dealing with face-to-face.

How to Save Your Child’s Life

February 10th, 2012

Yesterday, in-store video from a Wal-Mart near Atlanta, Georgia went viral. It showed a strange man picking up a 7-year-old girl in an aisle of the toy department. It then showed that same little girl kicking and yelling and creating such a huge ruckus that the man put her down–and ran away! For those of you who haven’t seen that video, here it is: Girl Fights Off Kidnapper in Wal-Mart

Kudos to that young lady for doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. How did she know what to do in such a frightening situation? And how did she have the presence of mind to do it? Simple: her parents enrolled her in a Kids Safety class. It may have been radKIDS, or it might have been another class given by an agency that teaches similar principles. But the day her parents brought her to that first class, they saved her life. She learned that Bad Guys hate noise, and often demand that their victims stay quiet. She also learned not to listen to Bad Guys, but to yell long and loud for help.

She learned that no one is allowed to hurt her, and if someone tries to, she can make them stop. The Bad Guy held her arms, so she used her legs to kick him repeatedly as hard as she could–while she was still yelling. He realized almost immediately that he was not going to get away with this child. He put her down and fled (and was arrested by local law enforcement a short time later).

By using what she had learned in that safety class to escape this man’s hold, she saved her life again. He was on parole, having just been released from prison for killing a man. You can be sure his intentions toward this innocent, little girl were not honorable. Nor was he likely to let her go, knowing she could identify him to police.

Several parents contacted me after this video hit the news. They wanted to know how soon they could get their own kids into a radKIDS class, just on the outside chance that some predator might approach them when Mom’s or Dad’s back was turned. I gave them the information they wanted. Most thanked me and set about making room in their child’s schedule for the 4 weekly sessions that a radKIDS course meets.

But, after I’d finished telling one mom about all we teach, all the situations we cover, and the physical skills we give the kids, she shrugged and said, “Well, we’ll think about it.” She explained that her daughter already had a very busy schedule, what with gymnastics, piano lessons, and dance class.

Now, all those activities are fun, and can be life-enhancing. A radKIDS class is also fun, and can be life-saving. Parents must decide what’s best for their children, and certainly, sports and the arts are important. But the life-skills learned in a radKIDS class–personal empowerment, the ability to make decisions, and the choosing of a clear strategy (not to mention how to deliver a good, solid punch to the nose)–can help a kid in situations when no cartwheel, no arpeggio, no pirouette can.

911 Won’t Make You Safe

December 27th, 2011

A woman I’m friendly with is in the process of breaking up with her longtime, on-again/off-again boyfriend. I say “in the process” because they’ve already had The Talk; he knows it’s over, and she’s packing up her things to head back home in another state.

The other night, after spending several hours at a bar with his buddy, Soon-to-Be-Ex came home drunk and threatened my friend with a knife. She responded by backing slowly into a corner of the room where the phone was, ready to call 911. Fortunately, seeing just how terrified he had made her was enough for him. He put the knife down and left the house.

I listened quietly as she told me all this. Then, my concern for her got the better of me, and I blurted out, “You were gonna call 911 when he was threatening to cut your throat?? Why didn’t you run??”

Confused, she reiterated, “But I was going to call the police!”

I told her that, in that kind of emergency, she needs to get away from her attacker first. Then call for help. If he had followed through on his threat, 911 would have heard the entire, horrible scene play out. The operator would have immediately dispatched police and EMTs to the address. But he/she could do nothing to physically stop him from hurting, possibly killing, her.

If you ever find yourself in a domestic violence or abusive situation, don’t back yourself up against a wall, furniture, or anything else. You must be free to move in any direction to escape injury and get away.

Know where your exits are. Is the doorway leading to the hall, the stairs, and the front door on your right? Your left? Behind you? Keep yourself oriented. Is there a window with a screen you can kick out?

Also, think about what’s right there for you to use as a shield or weapon. A tall vase can block a slashing knife. One woman threw a small lamp at a decorative mirror, then grabbed a shard of glass and cut her attacker with it. (He fled.)

Yes, calling 911 is the right thing to do when you’re in a dangerous situation. The police will get there as fast as they can. But there’s no guarantee they’ll arrive in time to stop the attacker from injuring or killing you. Sometimes, you’ve got to get yourself away from the danger so they can help you.

Who’s Got the Power?

November 13th, 2011

child with eyes covered











You’ve probably all heard about the sexual abuse allegedly committed against young boys by a former Penn State football coach. So, I’m not going to talk about that. You probably also know about the university’s alleged cover-up of the events. So I won’t go into that, either.

There is one point that I came across in my reading about all of this, and that is what I want to bring to your attention. Red flags waved and alarm bells sounded in my mind when I came across the words of the young man currently identified as Victim 1 in the case. When his mother asked him why he didn’t tell her what was happening, why he didn’t tell the coach to stop, or even run away from him, he replied simply, “You just don’t say no to Coach Sandusky.”

That’s it. “You just don’t say no.” Not to the coach. Not to the teacher. Or the doctor, the minister, the camp counselor, or any other adult or authority figure in a child’s life. Why not? Because we teach children to be “respectful” of adults, which is often interpreted as being obedient, doing what they’re told. We teach them to have “good manners,” not to “talk back” or “act up.”

And that’s fine. I’m certainly not against teaching kids to respect their elders. But there’s something else that we need to teach them: No one has the right to hurt me. ‘Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s not. No one likes getting hurt, sure. But kids need to be taught that it’s not okay for someone to hurt them–not other kids, and definitely not adults who should be taking care of them. In fact, it’s so important that kids understand this, it’s the first thing we teach RAD Kids when they take Violence Prevention classes.

The next thing we teach them is, “If someone tries to hurt me, I can make it stop.” How? There are lots of ways, all stemming from the child’s own feeling of empowerment. And that’s the key: our children must realize that they have the power to stop violence against them. If someone is hurting them (or trying to), they don’t have to be respectful. They don’t have to use good manners, say ‘please,’ or remain quiet. And they don’t have to wait, and suffer, and hope for some other adult to come and rescue them. They can rescue themselves!

The third principle we teach is, “If someone hurts me (or tries to), it’s never my fault. So I can tell! Tell a trusted adult who can help. If that adult doesn’t help, keep telling until someone does help. Again, this is about empowering your child. You can be sure that the Bad Guy who tries to mess with your kid will tell them to keep their “special friendship” a secret, and may even give them presents and take them on fun outings to buy their silence.

Abusive relationships are all about the abuser having power over the victim. You can have polite, respectful children who, at the same time, are empowered to keep themselves safe. Teach your child that no one is allowed to hurt them, and that they have the power to make it stop.