Safety in Numbers

This blog is usually for keeping in touch with friends, and to express the occasional opinion. This post is a departure in both content and mood. I have been writing it off and on for two weeks, and deliberated whether to post it at all. But it is important information, so I will share it now.

We recently had a horrific incident in Vermont. A college student went missing. Her parents were up visiting, and reported her missing when she didn't show up for dinner. She had spent the previous evening out on the town with friends. These friends gave an accurate description of what she was wearing down to her earrings. They had taken cell phone pics of her that night. They remember her asking to borrow some guy's cell phone around 2am when her phone's battery had died. A friend remembered her calling from this guy's phone - they traced the call. They found jewelry store security video footage of her walking with this guy using his phone. There were missing persons posters, news bulletins, and e-mails everywhere I turned. There was more info than any other missing persons case I've ever seen. Still, hikers found her body, on a trail near a popular swimming hole, a week later.

Yes, there probably is a false sense of security here in Vermont. Everyone is friendly and helpful. We don't have the same alarming violent crime rates as metropolitan areas. People run into gas station or markets and leave their cars running outside.

But terrible things happen even here in little Vermont. And I've been wondering how to teach MiniMaple about strangers. I want him to be wary - but not to the point he's screaming "stranger danger!" every time a little old lady smiles at him in the grocery check-out line.

But I might also not be the best role model for him. I was molested, as a teenager, by a stranger. I wonder even now how I let it happen - how he gained my momentary trust. And there are some small answers there - he knew my name. It was across the back of the t-shirt I was wearing. I was also in a strange environment, which I didn't know well - and I was inclined to believe/trust someone who "worked" there. I was lucky to be knocked unconscious during the rape and only have brief, incomplete memories. But it left my trusting nature, and my basic faith in human deceny, shattered.

According to a Mayo Clinic report, here are the numbers on abductions:
Missing children overview
  • Of the 837,055 missing persons reported in 2001, an estimated 80 percent were children.
  • About 99 percent were found within hours or days by usual law enforcement response.
  • More than 7,000 children nationwide were missing for prolonged periods. (Sources: FBI, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

Nonfamily abductions
  • In 1999, more than 50,000 children and adolescents were taken by nonfamily members by physical force or coercion for at least one hour.
  • Ninety-one percent of nonfamily abductions lasted less than a day, with 29 percent lasting two hours or less.
  • Classic nonfamily kidnappings pose the greatest risk of death or serious harm. About 100 children were kidnapped by nonfamily members in 1999.
    (Source: U.S. Department of Justice National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children, 2002)

So what do I do to teach my son? Of course the usuals: I'll tell him not to accept anything from strangers (candy, a ride, etc.) If someone approaches him that he doesn't know, run to a parent or teacher. The National Crime Prevention Council also recommends the following:

In addition to teaching children how to recognize and handle dangerous situations and strangers, there are a few more things parents can do to help their children stay safe and avoid dangerous situations.
  • Know where your children are at all times. Make it a rule that your children must ask permission or check in with you before going anywhere. Give your children your work and cell phone numbers so they can reach you at all times.
  • Point out safe places. Show your children safe places to play, safe roads and paths to take, and safe places to go if there's trouble.
  • Teach children to trust their instincts. Explain that if they ever feel scared or uncomfortable, they should get away as fast as they can and tell an adult. Tell them that sometimes adults they know may make them feel uncomfortable, and they should still get away as fast as possible and tell another adult what happened. Reassure children that you will help them when they need it.
  • Teach your children to be assertive. Make sure they know that it'’s okay to say no to an adult and to run away from adults in dangerous situations.
  • Encourage your children to play with others. There'’s safety in numbers!

And you can be certain, I won't be sending him out in a T-shirt with his name across the back.


post-doc said...

When my niece was about 1, I was driving and heard that someone had harmed his one year old child and had to pull over because I was so sickened. There's something about imagining something happening to someone you love that makes the empathy overwhelming and terrifying.

I have every faith that you'll protect and teach MiniMaple as best you can. And I'm so very sorry to hear about your childhood experience. Though I know it's naive, I like to think of the world as a benevolent place and am shocked and horrified when I hear evidence to the contrary.

It's strange, but the very thought of you being a mother - of carefully considering what to tell your little one and the kind of person he'll become as a result of your influence - makes me feel better about the world out there. So thank you for that.

MapleMama said...

Katie - as usual - thank you for your very kind and thoughful comment.

With Mr.Maple's help, I hope we can strike a balance...where MiniMaple will grow up being confident, yet cautious, in dealing with others.

The Contessa said...

Maple, I remember that story so well. I remember sitting in our dorm room under the pizza lamp while you told me.

What you don't realize ( and even now as I read your post and the memories came back) you do trust people and you have a positive outlook on humans as a whole. That is something that cannot be taken from you. And it hasn't.

Through your goodness and ablity to see the good in people, even when sometimes we don't want to, you will be teaching minimaple the right things and Mr. Maple will be able to cover the things you can't.

Any way you look at it, the past is the past. How you use it to form YOUR present is what is important. No matter how horrible the past is, you have made your present a happy and warm place to be. And Minimaple is already learning that.

As always - I loev you!!!!!

MapleMama said...

Contessa - you are also too sweet. Thank you.

I miss you - has it really been 15 years since we were roomies?!?