Friday, November 7, 2014

Safety “Rules”

Lock the door and keep it locked.  Make sure that lock is a deadbolt.  Be aware of your surroundings. "Don’t listen to music while you jog."  "Walk with a friend."  "Don’t go out alone at night."  These are some of the safety “rules” people, especially women and seniors, are advised to follow.  Then there are more dangerous and stupid bits of advice like “carry a can of mace” or “keep a can of Raid on your desk” (please don’t do that, okay?)  The “rules” are supposed to keep you safe.                

Except they don’t.  Well, not always.

Sometimes a “rule” limits your liberty and does nothing to keep you safe.  Sometimes people get a false sense of security because they are following the “rules” and then don’t see existing dangers.  You can be assaulted in the daytime, for example.   People have been robbed, raped, and assaulted even though they were walking with a friend at 6 o’clock in the evening in a public place.  (I personally know of several cases.)   Maybe we should just stay home and give up all of our freedoms because the bad guys are running rampant out there.  Oh, but wait, the reality is that we’re more likely to be assaulted in our own homes, cars, and workplaces, so maybe we should opt for a solitary padded cell with triple fortified walls on an island. Throw in a few sharks around the island for good measure.   Okay, I’m exaggerating and digressing a bit.  I think you get the idea.  

I’m not suggesting that you don’t follow any “rules”.  I’m suggesting you think further and deeper about the “rules”.

There is a difference between feeling safe and being safe.  

For example, having surveillance cameras does nothing to prevent targeted violence.  Studies confirm this.  Studies also confirm that surveillance cameras do deter things like theft from vehicles.  An uttered threat is different from a posed threat.  The person walking you to your car may be more likely to assault you than a creepy stranger who might happen to be in the parking lot after work.  The well dressed woman might be more likely to defraud you than the smelly scruffy guy panhandling on the corner.

Understand the why behind the rules.  Then you will understand when you can (and maybe should) bend or break them and when you should add to them.  You also have to decide how much risk is tolerable to you.  And don’t apologize for that.

There are so many “rules” that it would be impossible for the average person to even know all of them, never mind remember them all.  There are so many “rules” that to follow all of them all of the time means not living.  Having said that, sometimes “rules” actually allow you to live better and actually be more free.  If you’re not safe you’re not free.

My number one rule is this:  Listen to your gut.

I’m not saying your gut is always right that there’s danger.  I am saying your gut is always right about the fact that you’re missing something and need to figure it out. I am saying that if your gut is telling you that something is off, then examine it.  Your gut, or intuition, tells you that you need to pay attention, that you need to question, that you need to think. (By the way, you might not have time to ponder things;  In those cases just go with the intuition and ponder it later.)  Your gut tells you that your brain has picked up on something and you aren’t fully aware of it yet.  Is it a triggered memory or a present threat or both?  Is there something about that person’s body language that’s telling you things aren’t as they appear?  Was that noise outside a burglar or a racoon in the garbage?  

Be careful not to minimize, deny, or rationalize away a real threat.  Don`t buy into things like, "You're just being over-sensitive" or "But he's a nice guy".  You also don’t have to live in fear.  If you’re feeling fearful about something then take action.  The action might be to walk away, or take the earbuds out of your ears, or talk to someone, or fight back (or not fight back), or get a locking lid for that garbage can.

Be smart, do the best you can, be aware, keep thinking, trust your gut, and, if something bad happens, remember this:  

It’s not your fault.  

If something bad does happen, if you are victimized, forget about beating yourself up because you didn’t follow a “rule”.  If someone breaks into your house the blame for that rests firmly upon the person who chose to commit that crime.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Suddenly there was a roar behind me...

The man approached me in a public place.  I was alone but at a park where there were lots of people around.  Book in hand, I looked for a place to sit and read.  Maybe I could find a big old tree or a vacant bench.

The man seemed to be ambling through the park.  I say "seemed to be" because I later learned he was trolling, not merely strolling.  His physical approach was not outwardly threatening.  He approached slowly and openly, face-on, wearing a mask of nonchalance.

He nodded to me in greeting.  I nodded back.  He said, "hello" and I responded in kind.  He asked what I was reading and we began a pleasant but not personal conversation.

Suddenly there was a roar behind me and a shocked look of alarm on the man's face.  Before I could fully spin around to see what it was, the two police officers had jumped out of the cruiser they had roared up in.  They'd driven right into the park.

The man jumped back, put his hands up in protest and shouted, "I haven't done anything yet!"

Note the word "yet".

The officers addressed him by name and commanded him to get away from me.  The man ran away.

The officers came to me and asked if I was okay.  I was okay.  It was true that the man hadn't done anything criminal to me.  .... yet.

A simple exchange of pleasantries, a "hello" and seemingly benign conversation can be a tool by which an offender sets the stage.  This is one reason, only one, why so many women won't have a conversation with a man they don't know.  And one reason why decent men don't approach women is because decent men don't want women to have to feel this.

How sad, I thought, that so many men and women are denied friendly interactions because the possibility that someone is a predator lurks beneath the surface.  The impact of violence and potential violence ripples through the fabric of our society and our psyches.  Can we eliminate all predators from our midst?  Probably not, but it's in everybody's best interest to try.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

How Safe Are Your Kids In Their Summer Program?

Most parents, when they drop their children off at summer program, assume the adults in charge will do at least the obvious when it comes to keeping the children safe, especially if the program is run by a known organization.  One parent who enrolled his 5-year old in a program sponsored by The City of Hamilton got a big surprise.

Like many parents, this parent works.  The babysitter was picking up the child from the program every day.  The parent had provided the staff with a list of emergency numbers and instructions specifying who is authorized to pick up the child.

One day a man showed up at the program saying he was there to pick up this 5-year old girl.  He'd never picked her up before.  He was not authorized to pick up the child.  Program staff hadn't heard from the parent because the parent was expecting the babysitter to pick up the child as usual.  The little girl had never met this man. He was a stranger.

Well, of course this isn't going to work, right?  Surely the staff at the program won't let a 5 year old girl leave with a man she doesn't know, someone clearly not authorized to pick up the child.  They will question the man, call the parent, call the sitter, maybe even the police.  That's just common sense, right?  Apparently not.

They let this man take the little girl.

I'm tempted to end this post here and let you wonder what happened to this child.  What horrible possibilities...

As it turns out, the babysitter was unexpectedly unable to pick up the child so she sent someone else.  She sent the man.  But nobody knew this.  In the end the child was physically safe but she did go through the experience of being sent off with a strange man even though she'd been taught not to go with a stranger.  She's five years old.  She's going to do what the adults at the program tell her to do.  If they hand her over to the man, if they are okay with it, she obeys.

Now this child has learned that it's okay to get in a car with a stranger.  Now if someone approaches her and tells her that her daddy sent him or her to pick up the girl, she will go because this experience has taught her she should.  She will have to be re-taught and she will have to be told again that it's okay to say no to an adult.  This is daunting for a 5-year old.

When the girl's father found out what happened he was in shock at first.  He went to the staff at the program with his concern.  According to the dad, the staff said they have too many kids to check on who is picking them up.  Then the staff told him that they weren't aware that he'd given them a list of numbers and had specified who can pick up his child.  The parent also reported that the staff said, "Anyone could come in here, just pick a child, and walk out and we wouldn't even know about it."  The father couldn't believe the staff actually admitted this.

Considering the attitude of the staff, the problem will continue.

I want very much to name the program publicly.  I can't do that because it would advertise to predators where to find easily accessible prey.  Publicly naming the program will put all of those children at even more risk.  I will be assisting the parent in dealing with the program and the funders to have them address this.  I also wonder if this is the only program in the city where things are run like this.

I am encouraging every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher and caregiver to ask questions of the staff and funders at these summer kid's programs.  How do they ensure the children's safety?  Is there a sign-in policy?  Is there a sign-out policy?  How do they check to ensure the person picking up a child is authorized to do so?  Do the children know they are allowed to refuse to go with someone?  .... And about fifty other questions.  It's not safe to assume those in charge are taking it seriously and taking real steps to ensure your child's safety.