Unprotected Through a Mine Field

Last fall, on her short walk home from school, Somer Thompson was abducted by a child molester. Police found her body 2 days later, tossed into a garbage heap. Parents, friends, and neighbors were shocked that such violence could happen where they lived. They had chosen a safe place, a “good place” to raise their children. There were lots of families. Adults drove slowly because kids were always running around and playing outside. People knew their neighbors or, at least, recognized their faces. There was a feeling of trust. So, what makes a seemingly good, safe neighborhood dangerous?

Let’s take a closer look. Near Somer’s house, in between the mowed lawns and flower beds, stood an empty house that the kids walked past on their way to and from school. It was being renovated and prepped for sale. Are their any empty buildings in your neighborhood? As mobile a society as we’ve become, it’s easy to find vacant houses in just about any neighborhood. People need to move for their jobs, and sometimes, their house stays on the market longer than they expect. It’s simply a fact of life today. Even with a realtor’s lock on the front door, their are ways to get inside. Just ask any kid looking for adventure–or ask a bad guy. A building that stands empty for any length of time is an open invitation to criminals: “Here’s a hiding place. Just be quick about it; no one will see what goes on in here.” It’s a crime scene waiting to happen.

Who travels through the neighborhood every day? There are probably some at-home moms and maybe a few at-home dads, part-time and shift workers. There are the package delivery trucks driving in and out all day… letter carriers…. What about construction crews? A social worker friend shared this bit of info with me: the easiest way for a predator to move through an area unquestioned is simply to put on a hard hat. That’s it–a hard hat (easily purchased at home improvement stores or online), topping off a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, allows practically anyone to enter a neighborhood and look like he has a good reason for being there. Have you seen any new construction in your area lately? Have your kids?

Do you know your neighbors? Of course you do. But to find out some facts that may not come up at a block party or over coffee with a moms’ group, check out www.familywatchdog.us This site discloses the locations of registered sex offenders throughout the United States. It can be a real eye-opener.

I typed my address in and clicked Search. It showed me, on a map, the locations of the homes of 38 registered sex offenders in my area. When Somer Thompson’s neighbors did the same, the search brought up the names and locations of 162 registered offenders. 162 within a 5-mile-radius of her home. What they thought was a friendly, safe community turned out to be a veritable mine field, where innocent children walked daily among dangerous predators.

The point of all this is not to scare parents, not to declare that “no place is safe!” It’s to advise you to be aware. Dangers exist everywhere. You don’t have to raise your kids in a bubble; you can let them out of your sight for periods of time. Just teach them how to navigate safely through the world. The outdated warning, “Don’t talk to strangers” not only scares kids needlessly; it can prevent them from asking for help when they’re in danger. Instead, walk their route to school with them and point out places along the way that they can go to for help if they need it: “There’s Mrs. Green’s house; pound on her door if someone is following you,” or “Run into that coffee shop and tell the cashier if anyone makes you uncomfortable.”

Teach them about grown-ups who ask them for help: “Can you help me find my puppy?” and “Can you tell me how to get to the park,” for example. This is a common trick used by predators to get kids to go somewhere with them. Make sure your children understand that it is not their job to help a grown-up; that’s for other grown-ups to do.

Another way molesters lure children is by offering the chance to watch tv and videos, or play with toys and electronic games. Again, let your kids know that if anyone tells them this, it’s a trick. They need to run for help to one of the safe places you’ve pointed out to them.

Don’t let your kids walk unprotected through a mine field. If something happens, it can destroy their life and yours. Empower them with the knowledge that they’re important and that nobody is allowed to hurt them. They’ll wear this knowledge like armor, and it will help keep them safe.

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12 Responses to “Unprotected Through a Mine Field”

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