Recently, two young daughters of two of my friends went out for an evening stroll in their cozy, small-town little neighborhood.
And got stalked.
By a scruffy man in a car.
The girls quickly caught on that something wasn’t right, but even so, they had to pass by him four or five times as they hurried home because he kept circling around. When they were nearly home, he tried to talk to them through the car window and they took off running. Smart girls.
The police are on the case (which parallels some other recent reports). It appears to be some guy who is fixated more on indecent exposure than on abductions. In other words, it’s yucky, gross, and disgusting, but it could be worse. No one got hurt. The girls are okay. Everything is fine.
Except everything isn’t fine. Two sweet girls were preyed upon by a full-grown man which is so utterly wrong that it turns my stomach. As they were being stalked, they discussed whether or not to scream, and the one girl had the presence of mind to look for houses with lights on inside. No child should have to think like this.
However, as my husband (who was seriously pissed off about the situation) pointed out, it doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong. It is what it is. This is the situation whether we like it or not. What matters is how we respond.
The very next night I sent my teenage daughter on a walk to our downtown library while I went to a meeting at church. A solo walk in that part of town is no big deal, really. The church is only two blocks from the library, after all. But it would be dusk—and then dark—and that creepy man had a reputation for dusk-time stalkings. So before we headed into town, I had a chat with my girl. I explained (in greater detail than what I had shared with the children previously) what had happened to the girls. And then, encouraged by what I had heard about the girls’ creative resourcefulness in the face of danger, I made up my own list of common sense safety tips.
*The majority of people are good. Don’t be paranoid.
*That said, if you ever feel creeped out or uncomfortable, listen to your gut.
*Keep your head up. Walk with purpose.
*Stay in main areas and avoid secluded spots. In other words, don’t cut through the parking garage.
*Make eye contact with people you pass, and say hello. This makes you more visible, and, not to be morbid or anything, if you go missing, they will remember you.
*If someone is following you, approach a pedestrian and ask if you might walk with them for a bit. If you feel comfortable, explain what is happening. It is quite likely the person will happily walk you to your destination because most people in this world are decent and good. If you don’t want to explain, just ask what time it is—anything to make you look less alone.
*Be observant. Note license plates (if a car is involved), street signs, hubs of activity, etc.
*Keep the cell phone within easy reach. Use it, if needed, to appear connected, or to call the police.
*If all else fails, throw yourself on the ground and flail violently while screaming bloody murder.
“Geez, Mom. This is freaky,” she said when I finished. And then she went on her merry way, ponytail a-swinging.
It’s a fine line we walk, teaching our children how to be connected to the rest of humanity—to trust others and relate without fear, and to be confident (oh, how I want them to be confident!)—while at the same time instilling in them a sense of caution and awareness. (And of course, even with all the best safety precautions, bad stuff still happens. We can only do so much.)
When I asked my friends if they minded that I write about this, the one responded with a go-ahead yes, followed by this: “That whole thing still makes me angry. Part of me thinks, how dare anyone make me think twice about where I let my kid walk, etc. The other part looks at it like at the wild: the world is what it is, so you balance your response: don’t walk close to the water’s edge where there are crocodiles, don’t walk alone through the African Savannah at sundown, don’t go near a creepy guy’s car, and know how to get a license plate. Not fearful, just, you know, watchful, the way most people in the world just know to be.”