I have always tried to keep the Dewey Hop blog family friendly and if I had to give it a rating it would generally fall in the G to PG range. Given the upcoming subject matter I will be covering in the next few sections of my library read through, the rating will increase temporarily to between PG and PG-13. There are some younger readers of the Dewey Hop blog so parents please use discretion with your kids. Beginning with this blog more difficult topics will be discussed. This blog entry will deal primarily with predators and stalking, but does include references and some discussion of more violent crimes. These topics may be appropriate discussion starters for teens and parents.This may be a good time to begin or continue discussing safety precautions with your kids (There are suggestions at the end of this blog to help keep your kids safe). I am still making my way through the 360’s (Social Problems & Social Services) which, unfortunately, also reflects the darker elements of our society. My goal is to explore and educate about what is available at the Fulton County Public Library, not to scare anyone. Given some of the upcoming categories I felt a “warning” of sorts should be given.
While I believe in the basic goodness of most people, there are those individuals who do not conform to social norms, have no moral values, and who are anything but trustworthy. There are those who prey on other people which can manifest in many different ways and none of them are good. Learning to protect ourselves from predators involves a lot of learning to trust our instincts. Sometimes when people have ignored their instincts, things have gone terribly wrong. In Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus (also available in BOCD format) that is exactly what happened.
Hope is a tragic story with a mostly happy ending. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were all stalked and then kidnapped by the same man. Although they were taken at differing times, they were all held in the same house at the same time for years. The story in Hope is primarily about Amanda and Gina although Michelle is occasionally mentioned.
(Michelle Knight has her own book, Finding Me.
There is also a movie called Cleveland Abduction which aired on Lifetime and is primarily Michelle’s story.)
Amanda was kidnapped when she was 16 just a day before her 17th birthday. Gina was kidnapped at age 14. All three girls knew their abductor, Ariel Castro, as a local school bus driver. The girls knew Ariel’s kids who were close to their ages. Amanda was able to keep somewhat of a diary during her captivity which was then later used to help put events in a chronological order for the book she would write with Gina. Some information that the girls didn’t know about at the time was later researched (such as details about the police and FBI investigations into their cases) and put into the story at appropriate times so that the reader will get the overall story details in a logical order.
In both of Amanda’s and Gina’s kidnappings, the girls say they ignored their instincts that something wasn’t quite right about the situation. Both made the mistake of getting into a car with a man they barely knew. They both thought it would be ok because they knew his kids. Once they realized their mistake, it was already too late for them to escape.
Predators are experts at blending in and appearing normal. Ariel Castro was no exception. By day he was a school bus driver who was trusted with and had access to many children in the school system. The Castro children attended the school system where Ariel worked. While holding the girls captive, Ariel Castro went to work everyday for years. His extended family, that he continued to interact with, was well known in the community. There was nothing that seemed out of the ordinary about his appearance or behavior.
Predators are not who they appear to be. By night Ariel Castro used threats and intimidation to control his captives. He repeatedly raped the girls who were literally in chains and couldn’t defend themselves. He barely fed them enough to keep them alive; presumably to make them weak so they couldn’t fight him. He would torture them by making them watch TV shows which featured the investigations into their cases because the programs showed the distraught family members and made the girls cry knowing they couldn’t go to their families. He was proud of himself that he had kidnapped three girls and investigators had no clue what had happened to the them. Ariel seemed to take particular delight in the fact that the investigators seemed to be focusing on all the wrong people. He was not even a suspect. For Ariel it was all about control.
Eventually, Amanda managed to escape and free her daughter (A child she had with Ariel Castro). Amanda called the police who then came and rescued Gina and Michelle. The girls were reunited with family members. Sadly, Amanda’s mother died (mostly of a broken heart) during Amanda’s captivity. Michelle Knight’s child who had been in temporary foster care was adopted out because it was assumed that Michelle had abandoned him. Ariel Castro was tried and convicted of over 900 criminal counts (thanks to Amanda’s diary of events) which is believed to be a very conservative number. He was sentenced to life without parole plus 1,000 years. After his conviction, Ariel Castro barely made it over a month before killing himself in prison. He couldn’t stand being a captive himself. The “house of horrors” was demolished. Michelle, Amanda (with her child), and Gina are now moving on with their lives.Unfortunately the story in Hope is just one of many thousands of predators’ victims.
All of us need to learn to better protect ourselves with the best tool we have-our minds. How we can do this is outlined in Predators: Who They Are and How to Stop Them by Gregory M. Cooper and Michael R. King.
The authors have worked with the FBI (and various other fields of law enforcement) on thousands of cases and saw a serious need to better educate people on how to better protect and defend themselves. Just locking your doors and windows is no longer enough. Many of the stories in this book are much too graphic to share in detail here. Horrible crimes are discussed such as crimes against children and the elderly, terrorism, sexual assault, domestic violence, kidnapping, and murder. The authors of Predators do not mean to scare anyone and present the subject material in as respectful a manner as they can. Though the stories are not easy to think about, they are presented as opportunities to learn defense techniques.
The authors spend quite a bit of time at the beginning of the book discussing victimology, the study of the victim. Victims of violent crimes are studied to find links to the perpetrator. By working backwards many predators are caught and stopped. It is useful for readers to learn this technique as taught in the book, apply it to personal lives, and figure out what can be done to protect themselves from a similar crime. By thinking about the crime and tracing events backwards we can identify steps we can take in our own lives to reduce the probability of the same crime happening to us. The majority of things we can do to protect ourselves involve common sense but do require that individuals take an honest and hard look at their own lives.
The criminal mind is also examined. From the criminal mind we can learn some things we can do to help protect ourselves from predators:
- Predators count on predictability. Vary your routine occasionally. By becoming unpredictable (ex: take different routes to work, return early sometimes or leave later, etc) you are protecting yourself and your family. Vary your weekly schedule sometimes as well (ex: don’t always shop for groceries on the same day at the same time)
- Predators don’t want attention drawn to them (with the exception of terrorists). Teach young children to yell “Fire” or “Stranger” as loud as they can if they are approached by someone they don’t know and are uncomfortable with. Also teach children that it’s ok to walk away from an adult who is making them uncomfortable and even screaming is ok if there is “stranger danger” or the child is intimidated in any way (remember not all dangers come from strangers). Teach children about “good touches” and “bad touches” (anywhere covered by a bathing suit is a private area). Teaching your children (or even yourself) not to be a compliant target could save lives. (Ariel Castro said he was able to kidnap all three of his victims because they were compliant.)
- Predators will try to gain the parents trust in order to gain access to children. Background check people who will be near your kids. The authors recommend not even letting them go to sleepovers. If your kids participate in clubs or church activities ask a lot of questions to find out if the leaders have been background checked. Our church background checks EVERYONE who has contact with the children. It’s a shame that this has become necessary. Good people will understand and those who object should be viewed with suspicion. Background checks can be done formally or you can use the internet (for a fee) to check up on someone. Above all trust your instincts. Remember that background checks only expose predators if they’ve ever been caught.
- Predators are drawn to vulnerability. If you are a single woman living alone, for example, you can do things like put old muddy work boots or other props outside your door as if a man lives there. You can put props in your car such as leaving a tool belt or a man’s jacket visible on the back seat or floor of the car. Be creative. Anything small like this may be enough to discourage a would be attacker. If you are a frail elderly person, there are still things you can do to protect yourself. Never let a stranger into your home, no matter the weather or how clean cut they may appear. Keep them outside to increase the likelihood a neighbor or someone driving by will see you talking to him/her. If the person is someone you may want to talk to, ask them to wait outside. Lock the door and then go get your coat (if it’s cold outside), call a utility company to see if this person was actually sent there (if that’s who they say they are), etc. Don’t just rely on someone flashing a company badge or wearing a company uniform to be who they say they are. If the person has waited for you to come back outside after you’ve gone inside, then return to the door and go outside to talk to them. Increasing the chances of being seen will help to protect you. Any stranger who shows up at your door unexpectedly is a potential threat no matter what they look like, what they say they want, or whether the person is male or female.
- Predators may use the telephone to try to trick you. This could be true for anyone, but the elderly and children are particularly vulnerable. Never ever give out personal information over the phone. No legitimate business or service will ask for private information over the phone. If the person claims to be from a medical office but something strikes you as odd, for example, hang up and call that office yourself. Never call a number the caller gives you and you aren’t familiar with. Use the one you know or the one out of your phone book. There is a scam in this area in which a person will call claiming to be a grandchild who has gotten into trouble and needs a grandparent to bail him or her out of some problem. The best thing to do to avoid phone scams is to not answer the phone when there are numbers you don’t recognize. If you can’t read the numbers, get a phone that will talk and tell you who is calling. If you don’t answer the phone and the call is important someone will leave a message. If you happen to answer for whatever reason and you are suspicious, just hang up. It is better to be rude and remain safe. The scammers needing a grandparent will try to get an elderly person to guess who they are and then when a name is thrown out they claim to be that person. On occasion a grandparent may have a legitimate reason to wonder if this is a true call (although I sincerely doubt it ever would be). In that case, make up a name of someone you don’t even know and if the scammer says that’s who they are, you’ll know it’s a scam. But again, the best thing to do is not to even engage. Children should be taught not to carry on conversations with strangers on the phone. Young children shouldn’t even be allowed to answer the phone. Older children can be taught to call out “Mom” or “Dad” , then say after a brief pause a parent isn’t able to come to the phone. The child can take a number and inform the caller that a parent will call them right back. Avoid having children say anything that could indicate they may be home alone.
There are many, many more strategies in the book which I encourage everyone to read.
The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is an excellent book.
I actually read this book about 14 years ago when a friend recommended it. This is another book that I encourage everyone (especially women) to read. The basic premise of the book is to teach you to pay attention to your instincts-even though you may not realize why at the time. There are various scenarios presented throughout the book to illustrate why it’s so important to pay attention to your instincts. It’s far better to err on the side of caution. It is not too dramatic to say that this book could save your life.
Because I had read this book years ago, I believe that I was protected from a potentially bad situation. It happened when my family went on vacation to an ocean resort area. I used to suffer from migraines and I felt a migraine coming on. (I was vulnerable.) I got separated from my family when I went back to my hotel room alone. (I was isolated.) I decided to soak in the tub for a few minutes–which always seemed to help with my head. I was just finishing up when someone started pounding on the door–which of course I had locked and bolted. I asked who it was and tried to look through the peephole. I am barely 5′ tall with my shoes on so that was no easy feat. Anyway, I believe that I saw two men (My instincts said this wasn’t normal.) standing outside my door who said they were from maintenance. (My instincts said that maintenance people don’t just show up disturbing guests..) Because I couldn’t see out the peep hole very well, I couldn’t say exactly what they were wearing, but they didn’t look like maintenance people to me. It also struck me as odd that there were two of them. (My instincts said I should be suspicious.) I said, “Just a minute.” Then I went to the phone and called the front desk and asked if they sent two maintenance workers to my room. They said no and that they would send security up. Of course by the time security got there, the men were nowhere to be found. (Predators don’t want attention drawn to them.)
Just as reading this information helped me, I hope that Dewey Hop readers will benefit from this information as well. I do encourage everyone to read these books since there is so much more helpful information in them than I could ever begin to include in one post.
Keeping Kids Safe
For some excellent safety training parents can do with their children, go to:
The above two sites can keep you and your child busy for awhile. There are tests and quizzes you can give to your child to find out his/her knowledge of safety practices. There are videos to watch together and discuss to help train your child about how to stay safe. I highly encourage all parents to check out these sites.
Additionally you should have your child finger printed and swabbed for DNA. If you live in a country outside of the US and don’t have access to fingerprinting/swabbing, you can keep a lock of hair, or an old bandaid with blood on it (label and keep this in a baggie in the freezer). Although I hope no one will ever have to use these things, you will be glad you have them should the need arise.
Have you ever had an experience in which you listened (or didn’t listen) to your instincts? What happened? Would you do anything differently?