Monday, February 8, 2010

Safety First

No one actually aid, "Don't talk to strangers" and frankly, that's not the best advice anyway. I mean, you talk to strangers in front of your kid all the time, and every year they meet new "strangers" at school - teachers and coaches and other students.

I remember one second grade day, my brother, sister, cousin and I were standing outside Riverhills Christian School, waiting for Giggy to pick us up. The Baby Ministry was in full swing in those days, and hadn't yet morphed into Home in Zion. A woman we didn't know showed up in a minivan and told us that Giggy had sent her, because Gig was attending a birth. I started to get into the van, when my brother David stopped me.

"Wait," he told the woman, "She didn't tell us about that. We'll just wait here." We ended up waiting another two hours. I couldn't believe how obstinate my brother was being, and wherever he had acquired the idea that you shouldn't just get in a car with a stranger who says they know your parents, it wasn't from home. After that day, my mom confirmed that yes, David had done the right thing by wanting confirmation. She promised that Gig would give the person a note next time Gig sent someone to get us (something my mom didn't like in the first place, as the whole point of living with Gig from her perspective, was that Gig would watch us while she was at university and work.)

Still, my molestation began within a few months of that day. I went to my friend Pam's house after school, looking to play with her. She was out with her mom and brother, at one of her brother's many occupational therapy sessions. He had some form of disability, I couldn't remember what it was called, that left him hunched and huddled, wheelchair or else bed bound, and incapable of speech. Pam's dad opened the door.

"You can come in and watch TV with me while you wait for her," he said.

My son will know not to accept an offer like that. I didn't.

I subscribe to the email newsletter. The group was founded by Irene van der Zande. From their site, she "was inspired to found Kidpower by a frightening incident in 1985. As she was leading a group of young kids on a field trip, a man charged towards them and threatened to take one of the children.

Irene put herself between the man and the children, including her own son and daughter, and shouted. With the help of bystanders, she forced the attacker to leave.
The children were unhurt and soon recovered - but Irene was shaken and determined to do something to help people, especially children, build the skills and confidence to take charge of their own safety."

These are the same people who published the Halloween safety tips I posted back in October (including "Write your cell phone number in Sharpie on your kid's arm in case you get separated.") In addition to providing child safety tips, they offer "people safety" classes for teens, women, men, and people in wheelchairs. This week, they've sent in this story from one of their workshop students, with accompanying tips.
Irene, I wanted to let you know that as I was leaving work on Tuesday night, using all the tips of walking with awareness and confidence, a man in a Mercedes slowed down and was driving alongside of me, staring and making me very uncomfortable.

At first, I didn't realize he was focused on me, but it got worse when he started calling to me, and then when I reached an intersection, and needed to cross the street (going straight), he was turning left. He pulled into the crosswalk and stopped, leering at me and blocking my path.

There were other cars around, but no other people on the sidewalk nearby, and I could see that if he wanted to jump out of his car and attack me, he would have a few elements in his favor because I was, in a sense, isolated, and because he was in a car, he had an advantage.

I kept my calm, even though I was worried that he might try and jump out of his car and abduct me.

I looked right at him, said calmly and clearly, "No, thanks" (the first thing that popped to mind in my panic), and walked WAY around his car to keep myself at a safer distance. I even thought through the situation and walked behind him so he couldn't lurch forward and easily clip me to knock me down. He peeled away, and I quickly stepped into a bar on that block to make sure he wasn't circling back.

Typically, when someone starts leering/catcalling at me (even a "normal-looking" guy in a really nice car), my gut reaction is to flip out at them, call the person names or insult them (and I thank my New Jersey heritage for the ability to rattle off swear words in a way that would peel the paint off a car, so it gets pretty ugly pretty fast when I switch it on).

I used to think that was the best way to feel like I've "put them in their place" for being so disrespectful. But thanks to our Fullpower workshop on best practices in "People Safety," I assessed the situation and did what I needed to do to calm down, rather than escalate, the situation, and definitely felt less shaken by the experience afterwards, knowing that I had done the safest thing to protect myself and prevent a dangerous situation. ...

This brave woman did a great job of protecting herself in a potentially very dangerous situation by staying focused moment by moment on what her safest choices would be. The skills we'd practiced that morning were simple, including:

  • Projecting an attitude of awareness, calm, and confidence

  • Paying attention and being strategic

  • Staying centered and assessing your choices

  • Moving out of reach

  • Disengaging without escalating by giving neutral answers and leaving

  • Changing your plan and moving away from danger and towards safety

  • Setting boundaries

  • Getting help

  • Physical self-defense

  • Think of how much suffering could be prevented if everyone knew how to use these simple skills!

    And really ladies, who among us hasn't responded to honks & catcalls upon occassion with a third finger salute? Hell, I used to carry a small airhorn so I could honk back. (I also used to go hitchhiking, the epitome of taking rides from strangers. I'm still not sure I've entirely figured that one out. Apparently cab drivers don't count as strangers, but semi-drivers do.)

    And here's the person I try to keep safe and keep myself safe for: the Cuteness Monster.

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