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Last week I discussed keeping your child safe from sexual predators. I thought that it would also be helpful to discuss keeping yourself and your child physically safe in general. One of your most important jobs as a parent or caregiver is to keep your child physically safe from predators.  

You would be amazed if you could see the average police blotter that is full every day with crimes against innocent children and parents that are not gruesome enough, or spectacular enough, to make the news.

This week I will be sharing with you many of the insights and tips that I have learned over many years of working with various police departments, courts, and jail systems.

Make no mistake about it – rarely do criminals pick their victims at random. These people are skilled hunters that carefully and methodically select their prey. Women with children are often favorite targets because they are usually less likely to leave their children to pursue the criminal, or to fight back. They are also more likely to do what they are told in order to protect the child from threatened harm.

What do criminals look for in a victim? First and foremost they look for someone who is not paying attention to their surroundings . To avoid becoming an obvious victim, you need to have an appropriate state of mind.

One of the people who had an excellent system for accomplishing this was the late Jeff Cooper of the Gunsite Institute. He likened the proper state of mind to a traffic light. “Green” meant that you had no clue what was going on around you – you are the perfect victim. “Yellow” meant a cautious state where you are generally aware that a problem may arise. “Red” was a dysfunctional paranoid state of constant high vigilance. Yellow was where you always needed to be. Not paranoid – not oblivious to everything – just a casual but constant state of cautious awareness.

Here are some common mistakes and behaviors that criminals look for – and some tips on how to avoid them;

-The person so absorbed in window shopping or talking on the cell phone that they have no idea who is walking up behind them, who is walking toward them, or who is waiting for them on the next corner or alley. Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. Know who is around you or coming toward you. If you have concerns, walk into a store.

-The person walking toward their car in the mall or grocery store parking lot and is again so absorbed that they are paying no attention to the man that is standing by their car waiting. If there is a stranger standing by your car, either wait for them to leave or go back into the store and ask for someone to escort you to your car.

-The person who never locks their car doors - or is so absorbed in what they are doing that they never take the few seconds that it takes to look in the back floorboard of their car before getting in. Please – take a few seconds to see if anyone is hiding in the back of your car. Even if you locked your car, it takes someone only a few seconds to get in and hide.  

-        Always lock your doors. You would be surprised how many incidents occur at stop lights when someone simply walks up to a waiting unlocked car and get in!

-Criminals drive around looking for innocent looking victims who pull up almost against the bumper of the car in front of them at a traffic light. The criminal then eases up against your rear bumper and you are trapped with no way out. The criminal then walks to your car and forces his way in. Always leave enough space between you and the car in front of you that you can drive around it if necessary.

-A car taps you in the rear on a highway and you pull over to exchange information – especially at night or on a lonely highway. You may become an instant victim. Always drive to the next exit and only stop somewhere (like a gas station) where people are around.

-Even though you have a child with you, try and avoid carrying your purse on the side facing the pedestrian traffic. This makes it by far too easy for someone to grab your purse as you walk by. If someone does grab your purse – let it go – it is not worth the risk to fight the grab. One lady I know refused to let go of her purse and the criminal simply turned around and slashed her face deeply with a straight razor.

-Never ever leave you child in the car with the car running while you go into a convenience store! I can't believe that I see this dangerous practice almost every day. Please never do this – it is extremely stupid and is just asking for trouble. “But I was only gone for a minute!” will never be an acceptable excuse.

-Walk confidently with your head up. Don't meekly shuffle along with your head down looking like the perfect prey. Criminals generally dislike and avoid confident looking women.

-Having a dog at home and taking it with you when you go for a walk or drive is also an excellent deterrent. Criminals do like the prospect of having to fight a dog. Plus, dogs bark and call attention to the situation. I remember once I was working with a house burglar and I asked, "What do you do if you suspect there is a dog present?" I guess I was expecting him to divulge a secret to me. He simply looked at me strangely and replied, "I'm not stupid! I pick another house!" Speaking of houses, please always  lock your house doors and if you have bushed that are so tall they block your windows – cut them down a bit. Don't provide a dark place for someone to hide while they break in through your windows.

I hope that this article has provided you with some food for thought. This is one of those areas where a little prevention is really worthwhile. So be safe, protect yourself and your little ones, and stay in a "Yellow" state of mind when you are out and about.

**James is a Masters level Child Psychologist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked with distressed families for 40 years. He is the author of the Seamus the Sheltie series of children's books that were designed to assist parents in discussing difficult issues with younger children. Both books have received multiple national awards from parenting organizations. Mr. Beverly has written and published articles on parenting in a variety of media.



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