Posts Tagged ‘abduct’

How to Save Your Child’s Life

Friday, 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.

Why “Stranger Danger” is Harmful to Kids

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

ChildLostInCrowd









I have received several phone calls and emails recently from parents concerned about their children’s safety. Specifically, they want to know how best to teach their children about “Stranger Danger.”

As a Child Safety and Violence Prevention Instructor, I understand their concerns. Also as a Child Safety and Violence Prevention Instructor, I cringe at the phrase “Stranger Danger.” Yes, it rhymes, it’s cute, and it’s easy to remember. But it’s also misleading to the point of being downright dangerous to kids and parents.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, there are approximately 58,000 child abductions each year. About 57, 885 of these crimes are committed by someone the child already knows: a neighbor, friend of the family, divorced parent, etc.

In the remaining 115 kidnap cases, the child is taken by a stranger. While a very serious crime, stranger abduction accounts for two-tenths of 1% of all child abductions. Still, when I ask kids in my classes what they know about how to stay safe, one of the first things they shout out is, “Don’t talk to strangers!”

So, what happens when your child gets separated from you in a store, at the amusement park, or on a crowded street? (You can try to reassure yourself that, as a concerned and watchful parent, this will never happen. But I can pretty much guarantee you it will. Even the best parents blink their eyes occasionally, and that is all it takes for a child to spy something fascinating, and break away from mom or dad’s grip to get a closer look.)

As concerned and watchful parents, you are wise to equip your child with the knowledge of what to do should they find themselves separated from you. The problem with Stranger Danger is that it rules out the vast majority of resources available to help kids in this kind of situation: practically everyone they see around them will be a stranger to them. And they have been taught that anyone they don’t know is likely to harm them. With no familiar face to turn to, they have nowhere to go for help.

And, in the simple, black-and-white process of a young person’s thinking, if strangers are bad, then people we know must be good. This, too, is problematic because it puts a child’s trust in an adult who may not be worthy of it.

So, aside from keeping kids locked inside the safe confines of their homes until they’re 18, what can we do? Simple: teach them how to ask for help, who to ask, and where.

Make sure they know their first and last name, and their parents’ names as well. Having them memorize your cell phone number makes it easy to contact you. If your child is too young for this, consider writing down your name and cell number on a piece of paper and putting it inside a pocket of their clothing.

When you are running errands with your child, point out the people whose job is to help them if they ever need help. Show them who they can go to for assistance if they can’t find you. Should they ask that man on the corner, or would the store clerk be better? Would that guy asking for spare change be a good choice, or the mom with 2 small children inside the shop?

Talking about “what-ifs” doesn’t scare kids. In fact, they’ve probably already thought that they could get lost. What scares them is not knowing what to do if it should happen. Having a plan of action “just in case” reassures them that they can stay safe and find a good person to help them, and that they’ll be reunited with you quickly.


Predators Use Games to Grab Your Kids

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

Fiverr Color Image 1 Hand Out of TV Screen RESIZE

Predators are playing your Wii… in your house… to get your child.

At a Child Safety Seminar the other day, an agent from the North Carolina Department of Justice told me that the newest way child predators are finding victims is through video games. XBox… Wii… Nintendo DS…. They like smart phones and tablets, too. In fact, whatever the latest technology,the  Bad Guys have figured out how to work it to their twisted advantage.

Can’t be, you say! My child is playing in the safety of our living room; I can see him/her with my own eyes! Yes. But the game in their hands connects to the internet. Predators connect to the internet to find kids–and they know where kids gather. As the DOJ officer explained, it’s easy for an abductor or sex predator to make contact with young, innocent players by chatting and sending messages about the game they’re playing. Kids are flattered that someone they don’t even know wants to talk to them about their strategy, technique, and scores.

Once initial contact is established, luring a victim out of parents’ protective reach is simple. In fact, for these guys, the whole process is virtually as easy as reaching through the tv screen to snatch their next victim.

It’s an internet-enabled world, and kids are taught from preschool onward how to operate a computer. So, throwing the Wii out the window and forbidding our kids to touch a keyboard is not the answer. Then what can we do to keep our kids safe? Talk to them! Tell them never to put their personal information out onto the ‘net. No one needs to know their real name, age, where they live, what grade they’re in, what school they go to… even what sports they like or that their pet hamster’s name is Scooter. The Bad Guys might try to trick them into revealing important facts with questions like, “What kind of job does your mom or dad have?” Make sure kids know that any attempt by another “gamer” to make contact could be dangerous. If it happens, they should simply stop playing and go get a parent. The connection should be immediately ended, and the contact reported to police.

Yesterday it was desktops and laptops. Today, it’s smart phones, iPads and games. Tomorrow, it will be… who knows what? Doesn’t matter. The rule is always the same: Don’t give your personal info to anyone over any form of technology. Just as legend says vampires cannot enter your home unless you invite them in, predators can’t get to your kids unless they are allowed to. By repeatedly stressing that we don’t give out any personal info over computer/phone/gaming systems, etc., you keep the Bad Guys from getting in.



Pick a Card

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

You know those little cards you fill out and send in to get free stuff? “Tell us how you like our product and we’ll send you a free tee shirt/CD/sun catcher!”

It’s fun. The cards only take about a minute to fill out, and a few weeks after you send them off, a little gift shows up in your mailbox from that company, to thank you for helping them work out their marketing plans. I’ve gotten a couple of tee shirts and CDs this way myself–and am currently awaiting my first sun catcher.

All I want to say is… if you’re going to fill out the card, go ahead and send the thing off–preferably in a sealed envelope. Don’t leave it lying around the house, or you’ll miss out on your chance for free goodies. And don’t use it as a bookmark. Why?

A used book was recently purchased on Amazon.com. As the new owner flipped through the pages, he came across one of these cards–revealing a complete stranger’s personal information. He read the name, address, phone number, and age of the young woman who had owned the book previously. He also learned her favorites sports activities and preferred places to eat, drink, and go dancing with her friends.

Fortunately, this man was neither a stalker nor of some evil, criminal bent. He did not seek out the woman and terrorize her for her mistake simply because he knew where she lived. Unfortunately, he didn’t just tear the card up and throw it away, either. Instead, he photographed it and–with all her information clearly visible–posted it on the internet.

Now, millions of ‘net surfers around the world know her name, where she lives, and where she likes to go running and hang out with friends. The guy who posted her information didn’t exercise the best judgment in doing so. (In fact, I won’t argue with a friend of mine who called his actions careless and even downright stupid.) She’s going to have to do a lot of work to restore her privacy.

But you don’t. Your private business is nobody’s but yours. It’s fine to drop a card in the mail for a free sun-catcher. Just don’t let your personal stuff get exposed–you will get burned.

“It’s So Great!”

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Upon finishing my most recent RAD Women’s Self-Defense class, I asked the participants what they thought. Had they gotten what they wanted from the class? Did they feel safer going out into the world? They responded that, yes, they had learned new ways of protecting themselves, and if they ever found themselves in a dangerous situation, they would be ready to do what they had to do.

My youngest student, a young woman of 17, said to me, “You know what’s really cool? It’s so great to find out what you can do!” During the class, she found out that she had not only the will, but the power and the ability to take down a male attacker much taller and heavier than herself, and to render him incapable of continuing his assault. She found out that, if she ever needs to, she can and defend herself successfully. She can fight for her life and win.

That knowledge alone makes her safer as she goes about her life. Why? Because muggers, rapists, and thugs of all kinds are experts at body language. They can spot a potential target from across a parking lot, or down a busy street. The person who’s looking down at their feet, who’s thinking, “Don’t anyone look at me; I don’t want any trouble,” is going to pull their attention. The one busily chatting on her cell phone, telling herself that it will keep her safe, is going to have him shaking his head and chuckling before he slips quietly behind her and grabs her. (And what will her friend on the other end of the phone do to “help” her at that point? Tell the police that he heard her scream and drop the phone.)

Then there’s the RAD woman who strides to her destination with purpose, looking at what’s happening around her. The one who’s thinking, “What if someone came from over there? What tools do I have available to fight with right now?” He’s going to stay away from that one–too much trouble. She’d see him coming and be able to provide the police with a description. She also might be ready to counter his best take-down move. He’d lose the element of surprise. If he can’t sneak up on her so she’s paralyzed with shock and fear, she’s liable to start yelling and attract attention. And that’s definitely not what he wants. Better to find a easy victim and leave the RAD chick alone.

The Toy Department Is NOT a Babysitter

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Taking young kids shopping with you can be… difficult, shall we say? They want to stop and look at something when you’re in a hurry, and they’re in a hurry when you’ve stopped to look at something. They get hungry at inopportune times, and urgently need a restroom when the store may not even have one. Then, of course, there’s the fact that they tend to want everything they see!

A neighbor of mine copes with the situation this way: “When my husband isn’t home to watch them and I have to bring them with me, I send them to the toy department. It keeps them happy and lets me do what I have to do. Then, I swing by and scoop them up, and we’re done!”

I probably turned pale when I heard of this harried, but well-meaning, mom using the toy department as a babysitter. I explained to her that her precious, albeit bouncy, little tykes were safest when they were under her direct supervision. They could get lost, hurt, or, heaven forbid, taken while she was elsewhere in the store, picking up milk or trying on a shirt.

She maintained that she was never away from them long enough for anything bad to happen–and besides, there were other adults in the area. One of them would surely step in if help was needed.

Yes, that would be great. Except, here’s some information about one of those “other adults in the area” while kids are looking at toys: He’s a registered sex offender. He enjoys watching little kids play. And he was arrested this past weekend in the toy department of a Wal-Mart in Virginia, not just for doing that, but for exposing himself and masturbating while he did it.

Parents, your children are safest when they’re with you. As tempting as it may be to leave them in a public place “just for a few minutes” so you can get some things done, it’s not worth the risk. Places that are fun and interesting for kids can also be fun and interesting for perverts and predators because of those kids. Don’t give them the chance to hurt your children.

Fight Like a Kid!

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

‘Ever been to Myrtle Beach, SC? Great spot for a family get-away–golf, shows, shopping, and of course, the beach. Lots of “fun in the sun.” And a good place to kidnap a child?

Ask 4-year-old Josie. Someone tried to abduct her right off a Myrtle Beach sidewalk, on a bright, sunny afternoon, with her family just inches away from her. The kidnapper glided up quietly behind her in his car, and simply reached out the driver’s side window and scooped her up. She kicked and screamed as he pulled her inside.

Her 8-year-old brother, Nathan, saw the whole thing and ran to help her. He fought against the abductor, yelling, punching, kicking, and biting–anything he could think of to free his sister. The predator stayed inside his car, holding onto the girl’s feet. Nathan pulled back. He never thought of giving up.

“I did everything I could to get her back out of the car,” Nathan said. He even scratched the man’s arms, hoping to get bits of the Bad Guy’s skin under his fingernails. (“For DNA!” he said. Nathan learned something from watching crime shows on TV.)

Finally, the predator let go. Josie flew into her brother’s arms and they both landed on the ground. The Bad Guy sped away.

That’s how you fight evil–with everything you’ve got. Anything less would not have saved little Josie. If only every kid were prepared to defend themselves like that! Unfortunately, very few are. Most children, on finding themselves in a position of imminent danger, don’t know what to do. They become confused and terrified. And when a child is afraid, they shut down and give up. And right then, the Bad Guy has won.

We need to teach our children that, while there are some bad people in the world, no one has the right to hurt them. When they really believe this, they don’t react to endangerment with paralyzing fear, but with righteous anger: “How dare you hurt me??” They feel empowered to do whatever is necessary–kick, punch, hit, scratch, and yell for help–to defend themselves or someone they love. Josie yelled and kicked at her attacker. Nathan pulled her from his grasp. This kind of determination is what we need to instill in our kids.

We can’t be with them to protect them every second of their lives. So they must know 2 things:

1) they are worth protecting, and

2) they can defend themselves

They don’t need a parent, teacher, coach, or other grown-up to rescue them. There may be no one around to help them if a Bad Guy strikes.

Give them the information they need to be able to fight back against an attacker. If you know about kids’ self-defense techniques, great. Teach them to your kids yourself. If not, get them into a good kids’ self-defense and safety class. Then, teach them never to give up, but to keep fighting because they they’re special, they’re important, and they’re loved. As long as they keep fighting, they’ve got a fighting chance.

She Did “Everything Right”

Monday, May 17th, 2010

A few days ago, I wrote about the attempted abduction of a woman in Chapel Hill, NC. The suspect grabbed her as she jogged along a busy street, at approximately 2 in the afternoon. Police investigators have reason to believe that the man charged in the crime may also be involved in other recent incidents, including the attempted kidnapping of two teenage girls and the severe beating of a woman still in Intensive Care.

The attacker had a shotgun and a baseball bat in his car, and a pack of condoms in his pocket. However, when asked by a reporter if women in the area should be worried, Lt. Kevin Gunter of the Chapel Hill Police Department said no: “This was a woman that was jogging in an area that is very well traveled with both pedestrians and vehicles, broad daylight. She absolutely did nothing wrong.”

No woman who has ever been or will be attacked does anything “wrong” to invite the attack. As a friend of mine said, “She could be sashaying naked through the woods at midnight! While not smart, it still doesn’t give anyone the right to attack her.” So, not doing anything wrong does not appear to be enough of a reassurance to women that they will stay safe.

Look at what the officer said: the victim was in a well-traveled area, with plenty of car and foot traffic. It was broad daylight. She was doing everything right. And look at what happened: she was grabbed by a man in front of several witnesses. He proceeded to drag her to his car, in which he had weapons. He is believed to have a history of violent crimes. If two bystanders hadn’t intervened in the kidnapping attempt, this jogger would likely have been raped and murdered by this man.

I think that’s more than enough grounds for women to be concerned–if not necessarily “worried”–for their safety. I know that the police see the worst of the worst when it comes to the evils that human beings can commit against one another. Perhaps Lt. Gunter believes all’s well that ends well, and with this man in custody for the time being, women need not worry about a threat to their well-being. My concern is that these women may not have paid attention to their safety before this happened–and then it happened. The very fact that things still happen, whether we’re prepared for them or not, seems reason enough to me to be prepared.

I’m not advocating living in fear, being afraid every time you go out, or burying your head in the sand when it comes to crime. I’m saying to get out there, take a self-defense class, and learn not only physical skills to use against an assault, but some new ideas on how to avoid being chosen as a target in the first place. Because, yeah, this guy is off the streets for now. But, what if someone else is waiting around the corner?

Too Busy to Be Safe?

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Several women have come up to me and said that they want to take my self-defense class. They live alone, they work odd hours, or their careers involve travel and they don’t always feel comfortable when they’re by themselves. I totally understand that feeling. It’s why I took the RAD course myself, and why I became an Instructor.

But, when I sit down with them to schedule a class, something changes: “Oh, I can’t make it that day; I’m going to visit my parents,” or “That would have worked, but I just booked something for that weekend,” or “I’m so busy this month and into next; can we try for the summer?”

My friends, we can try for any time you want. I will teach you any time you can be available. There’s just one thing. Yesterday afternoon, not far from here, in broad daylight and full view of everyone passing by, a guy grabbed a young woman right off the sidewalk.

He shot a stream of pepper spray into her eyes, and then proceeded to drag her to his car, which he’d parked in a nearby lot. Fortunately, two men driving by saw the woman struggling against the attacker, and quickly pulled into the parking lot. This probably saved her life. Caught in the act, he pushed her away and drove off. Police found his car a short time later; inside were a shotgun and a baseball bat. When they arrested him, they found condoms in his back pocket.

The case is still being investigated, but police have found no evidence that this man simply enjoys hunting, baseball, and the company of a lady. What they have found strong evidence of is a connection to the brutal beating of a woman still lying in intensive care in a local hospital. He’s also wanted for questioning in the attempted abduction of two teenage girls a few days ago.

Am I saying that, by taking my class, my friends will never be harmed? Or that, had they taken the course, the women in these events would have been able to fight off an attacker armed with pepper spray? No, I’m not saying that–but I am saying that taking a RAD Women’s class can make you safer. Yes, we teach techniques to block the strikes and break the hold of a assailant. But we also teach you how to reduce your risk of becoming a victim, what to look out for, and how best to react when or if something unexpected (and bad) happens.

I know you’re busy. But it’s about priorities. Do you want to make staying safe a priority? Or do you want to keep crossing your fingers and hoping that it won’t happen to you? Because I would bet that if 2 days ago, you had asked the 19-year-old woman walking down the street minding her own business if she thought she might be abducted in broad daylight, raped, and murdered, she would have said no, too.

Movie Scene Scarily Accurate

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Talented screen actor Stanley Tucci received an Academy Award nomination for his frighteningly accurate portrayal of neighbor George Harvey in the movie The Lovely Bones, about the murder of a young girl, and its effects on her family. If you haven’t seen the film, consider watching it. It’s well-made, suspenseful, and moving. And if you do decide to rent it, pay close attention to the scene in which Harvey lures his victim to her death. It may not be what you’d expect–and it could have been transcribed from real-life.

Scene opens: Susie Salmon walks home from school by herself. Chasing a windblown slip of paper across a cornfield, she encounters a neighbor who pretends to try to catch the paper for her.

“Ohh! I hope that wasn’t your homework!”

This is a red flag–a stranger trying to help her. Called “false teaming,” it’s a common way for rapists to gain the trust of their victims. The predator spots his target, then waits for an opportunity to “help” her in some way. He might offer to carry grocery bags or heavy packages, unlock a car door, or, as in this case, try to recover something that was dropped. He knows that girls and women have been trained to be “nice,” to respond with gratitude rather than with caution.

Harvey, meeting no resistance from Susie, continues with his plan:

“Oh, hey, you’re the Salmon girl, right? Remember me? I live right down the street in the green house–Mr. Harvey.”

He’s letting her know that he’s not a “stranger,” therefore not dangerous. He doesn’t mind telling her his name and where he lives; he knows she’ll never have the chance to tell anyone what he did to her.


“How are your folks doin’? Tell ’em I said hi.”

He even knows her parents–further evidence that he’s not a stranger. And everyone knows it’s strangers you have to watch out for, not neighbors who live “right down the street.”

Susie responds politely, looking wary but offering no resistance to his somehow-inappropriate chattiness and eagerness. His excitement increases as he sees that, even though she thinks something isn’t right, she would rather be polite than trust her gut.

“You’re the perfect person for me to run into!”

Moving ahead with his lure, he implies that he needs her help–she’s just the right person he needs! When she gives a half-hearted excuse for not wanting to go with him, he feigns disappointment:

“I just worked so hard on it… and I just got excited for someone to see it….”

He knows that her need to be polite and not hurt anyone’s feelings will work for him. Against her better judgment, she follows him. He coaxes her down the ladder and into his secret chamber.


Notice, parents and guardians of children:

  • He was someone she knew. He was not a “stranger.”
  • He never touched her to get her there. He didn’t jump out of the bushes and grab her, or tackle her from behind a parked car. He never even got close to her.
  • He was not dressed in a scary costume, complete with a dark mask and black clothes that signal “Bad Guy here!”
  • He did not speak roughly or meanly to her. He called her by name in a friendly manner, and asked about her family.
  • He asked for her help, making her feel important. Adults in need of assistance of any kind should seek help from other adults, never from children.
  • He played on her emotions, making her believe she hurt his feelings, and knowing she would try to “make it up to him.”

Yes, there are child abductions/murders perpetrated by strangers. But more often, they involve someone the child has seen before–a neighbor, a friend of mom’s or dad’s, the guy who works at the store you frequent. And the reason they happen is because these people aren’t strangers. Children tend to trust adults they’ve seen before because they don’t fit their idea of a scary, black-cloaked “stranger.” When an adult has a child’s trust, luring them is easy.





Unprotected Through a Mine Field

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

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.

A New Meaning to Car Safety

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

The other day, a friend of mine came home to find a recorded message from the school principal on her answering machine. It seems that 2 students were walking home from school and noticed, after a few blocks, that a car was following them slowly. The kids wrote down the car’s license plate number, went into their home, and called the police. It turns out that the car belongs to a registered child sexual offender who lives in the area. When questioned by police, the man admitted to following the kids home, but denied he planned to hurt anyone.

My friend, the mother of 2 other students in that school, is concerned because 1) this criminal knows what time school lets out every day, 2) he knows which kids walk home, 3) he has stalked at least 2 and now knows where they live, and 4) he knows, by whether they walked through an open door or used a key or alarm code to get in, if anyone is home to greet them. As he stalked these children, he was also able to determine whether their street is busy or quiet. A simple glance at the number of parked cars tells him if anyone is around and likely to report a cry for help.

In her message to the school’s families, the principal stated that the school would be taking additional and immediate steps to insure students’ safety against this sort of threat. But, she added, once the children left the safe haven of the campus, their security rested within themselves and their parents.

This is where proactive self-defense comes in. Does your child walk to school? Or walk even a block or so home from the bus stop? It might be a good idea to walk that route with them and point out some safety options: “What if someone was following you in a car on this road?” If it’s a main road, the child could enter a store or business and state the need to call 911 (and then Mom or Dad). On a quiet lane, it’s important to know houses of friends or neighbors along the way who would be home and able to help in a dangerous situation.

Another common scenario: someone drives up, lowers their window, and asks for directions. Is it okay with you if your child tells a stranger how to get to the park? It shouldn’t be. It can put them within arms’ reach of a predator.

With kidnappers and child sex offenders brazenly cruising past schoolyards and playgrounds, following children home and luring them into get-away cars, it’s urgent that we teach our kids how to protect themselves. There’s a lot more to “car safety” these days than just buckling a seatbelt.