A Rapist At Large

EmptyParkBenchWhile much of the rest of the country is experiencing frigid temperatures and snow storms, Ashland, Oregon has been balmy this past week: windy but mild, highs in the low 50s. My mother, who was visiting from Amherst, Massachusetts, was amazed every time she walked outside.

“Oh this weather!” she’s been saying with a happy sigh. “You have no idea how lucky you are.”

We are lucky to live in such a nice place. While it isn’t perfect, Ashland has the best of so many things: A nine-month-long theater festival, lots of outdoor recreation including a ski mountain, a small university, locally-owned businesses and boutique shopping, some of the best coffee shops in the world, and an excellent food co-op.

But, it seems, we also have a rapist on the loose.

Since early December there have been three sexual assaults in Ashland that may be related. The most disturbing is also the most recent. A woman was raped in broad daylight close to one of our city’s busiest intersections.

I’m always worried about keeping my children safe. There is not usually much crime in Ashland. This is the kind of place where people often don’t lock their doors, where women can safely walk home at 2:00 in the morning, and where newspaper headlines are more often about local politics than local crime. So I’m not sure how to react to this news without feeling inordinately fearful and irrationally worried.

I grew up outside of Boston. When I was in high school, I was walking two miles home from work one summer day, carrying my shoes in one hand so I could step in rain puddles. A man walking towards me bent down. I remember noticing that he wasn’t tying his shoes and then chastising myself for wondering what he was doing.

“It’s a free country,” I thought to myself. “He can do what he wants.”

When I came closer, he stood up and grabbed my breasts.

It was broad daylight on a busy street. I started screaming. I was so furious I didn’t think to be scared. The pervert hurried away and I had so much adrenaline coursing through my body that I almost ran after him. “YOU DISGUSTING CREEP,” I screamed. “YOU DISGUSTING CREEP!”

Though at least half a dozen cars drove by, not a single driver stopped.

I wish I could say that was the only time a stranger approached me and did something inappropriate during my childhood but it wasn’t.

Afterwards, I was terrified for a long time. I kept re-living the attack in my head. I was working at a book warehouse and when I was in the stacks shelving books I would get frightened, turning around sharply, sure that the man who had grabbed me was standing right there.

I’m so lucky that nothing worse happened to me that day. I ran home and collapsed into sobs. Though at first I was resistant because I felt humiliated and embarrassed, my father persuaded me to let him call the police. When two detectives traipsed into our house in heavy boots, they told us there had been several other sexual assaults that summer.

Ever since, I’ve been much more street smart. I’m always aware of who is around me, whether I’m walking alone or with friends, in daylight or at night. I pay attention to my intuition now and if something seems out of the ordinary or someone makes me nervous, I usually react right away. Once, when I lived in an apartment complex in Atlanta, I went to get the mail from the collective mailboxes and something–I can’t tell you what because I don’t know–spooked me. I ducked into the nearest lighted building, took the stairs two at a time, and knocked on the door on the top floor. A couple let me in and I used their phone to call James, who was my boyfriend at the time. It was just a few feet and I couldn’t explain why I was scared but I did not want to walk back to my apartment alone. That night robbers broke into the ground floor apartment in the adjacent building and stole everything of value.

We practice street smarts at our house, role-playing situations where a stranger tells one of the kids he has candy for them or where he yells at them to get into his car. I teach them it’s okay to scream, “NO! GET AWAY FROM ME!” at the top of their lungs. I tell them that if an adult they do not know asks them for help, that adult is a bad person who probably wants to hurt them and they should get away as quickly as they can. I tell them not to run away from danger but to run towards safety. I do our safety scenarios with lots of exaggeration and silliness (and only when James isn’t around because he gets so worried and freaked out that his upset becomes counterproductive). The kids think the role-playing is so much fun that they sometimes even ask to practice.

We also have a family password. The kids know not to go with an adult they know for a last-minute change of plans unless that adult gives them the password. If the adult doesn’t know the password, the kids know to insist on calling me or James to make sure it’s okay.

SOU public safety issued a list of recommendations. Here they are:

1. Walk with a companion.

2. Walk in well lit areas. Do not walk in dark alleys or unfamiliar areas. If you must do so, carry a flashlight.

3. Carry a shrill whistle to sound an alert.

4. Have a cell phone available.

5. Be aware of your surroundings. Do not walk with your head down or while wearing headphones.

6. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

7. If you are threatened, dial 911 immediately.

How do you keep your children safe and teach them to be aware and careful without scaring them? How do you protect them without taking away their independence? At what age should a child carry a cell phone? Is it ever safe to let a child walk alone? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comment section below.

Bookmark and Share

Tags: , , , , , , ,

This entry was posted
on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010 at 6:23 am and is filed under safety.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.



14 thoughts on “A Rapist At Large”

  1. How frightening! I hope they find the creep. In the meantime, you are so smart to teach your kids these valuable strategies of empowerment, rather than pretend (and hope) it can’t happen. Stay safe!

  2. I love the idea of role play “with lots of silliness and exaggeration”! My kids are worriers and we talk about this stuff but–even though I try to be matter of fact–tensions can run high. No one likes to actively think about this stuff with their kids. Thanks, Jennifer, for the suggestion!

  3. Lots of great ideas here. I hate needing to teach children these skills, but it is a reality of the modern world. I thought my kids were safe in France, but no. There was a forest near our house, thirty minutes from Paris. One of my daughters went for a walk with her friend. They were approached by a pervert. The other girl had already had a similar experience in an apartment house in Paris, and her parents had taught her to kick the guy in the balls, if approached again, which is what she did. Then they ran. After that, we had to outlaw walking in the woods because of the “bad people.”

    I will forward your recommendations to my daughter-in-law for my grandchild’s benefit. Thank you!
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Bayside Meanderings on a Winter Afternoon =-.

  4. i also experienced similar breast-grabbing when i was in 6th grade. now i do find myself constantly worrying about anyone (even the relatives) who gets physically too close to him.

  5. Oh how scary!! We had a couple run ins as children, one in which my brother barely escaped by rollerblading into an old train tunnel where the man couldn’t get into – he was driving. It still terrifies me to think of it.

    Baby girl is only two, but I’m already worrying and wondering how to start teaching her as she is incredibly outgoing and trusting as children that age are. Thanks for the these tips – I’ll definitely be putting them to good use!
    .-= Almost Slowfood´s last blog ..Tasty Treat: Molasses Cookies =-.

  6. It’s so tough to know how much detail/practice to go through with your kids. This is a good reminder, though, for me that I should run through the different scenarios with them again. For us, passing up on helping strangers find a lost dog or not stopping to pet a dog are two biggies. All my kids are pet fanatics.
    .-= Kristen J. Gough´s last blog ..3 Kid-friendly New Year

  7. When my kids were young, what scared me more than anything was that we, the parents, bring them up to respect adults. That overdose of respect can hamper their taking up for themselves — and screaming their heads off — when they need to.
    .-= Ruth Pennebaker´s last blog ..We Saw Them Standing There =-.

  8. How scary to have to deal with that as a mother! I don’t recall having any issues as a kid, but I do remember a few incidents as an adult. I’ve been groped on the subway a few times, and I once saw a man sitting outside of a subway station in the summer snapping photos up women’s skirts as they walked by. Disgusting! But at least I was mature enough not to feel threatened by it (and OK, I was wearing pants).
    .-= Susan Johnston´s last blog ..5 Qs with Melissa Hart, Author of Gringa =-.

  9. The family password is a great idea. I had not heard of that. Definitely going to create one for my daughter. Also, I wish someone would create a panic app for the iPhone. It would automatically dial 911, turn your phone into a walkie talkie (in the event you need to yell because they other guy has it) and GPS your location. Just putting it out there.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..Hey, It

  10. I’m still struggling with what’s safe and my girls are older. My oldest goes off to college next year and I feel like it starts all over again, because I’m not comfortable leaving the younger one home all by herself, even though she’ll be 15 next year. It never ends, the worrying and fear, even though you know they have to make their own way in the world.
    .-= Melanie Haiken´s last blog ..A New Year’s Goal: 12 Months, 12 Peak Experiences =-.

  11. This is worrisome. I remember one winter at MSU, when my room mate was attacked on the way back to her dorm at night. We remained fearful for the rest of the year. I live in a Detroit suburb now, which is relatively safe, but crime has always been an issue here. My neighborhood is often the target of theft and vandalism, so we’re careful with our kids. It’s awful to live in fear, especially when you’re a parent. Good post, Jennifer, and I hope this criminal is caught.
    .-= Cindy La Ferle´s last blog ..Recipe for balance =-.

  12. You know, I worry more now that my eldest is 11 yrs old. The younger two are still under my constant watch and 11 yr old boys seem to be targets for sickos. It’s such a difficult balance to teach without fear, to let your kids have some freedoms, and not wake up in the middle of the night with screaming nightmares.

    I hope the rapist is caught soon.
    .-= Claudine´s last blog ..WDW 1/2 Marathon, January 9, 2010 Redux =-.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *