Stranger Danger

03/11/2015

Volume #212

I knew it was bound to happen but you never really see these sorts of things coming. JoAnn asks me, “If a guy you don’t know offers to buy you candy what would you do”? It’s a loaded question from the get go, I just didn’t know where she was going with it when she asked. Of course there is only one correct answer and when I saw the sheepish look on Kate’s face when she heard my answer confirming her mothers it was obvious she made the wrong call. She and her good friend walked down to a local store that sells candy. They had a about a dollar each which was more then enough to satisfy their quest for sweets. When they arrived back home with cash in hand all proud of themselves they had a bit of a rude awakening. Apparently an older gentleman in the store at the time had purchased the candy for them. They just thought he was a nice guy but hadn’t really put together all the things either of their mothers had been telling them for years. Do NOT ACCEPT CANDY FOR STRANGERS. (Yes, this is what they meant and when that statement comes into play). They both said he seemed nice enough but when asked if they knew the man they had to confess they did not and had never before seen him. Thus he fits into the category of STRANGER.

 

Now we’re not the type of parents to panic right away, OK one of us isn’t. JoAnn called the store to speak to the clerk to query her but she was already gone for the day. Luckily one of Emma’s best friends parents are both police officers so a friendly conversation could be had without over reacting and actually making the call to the police. After all there is the chance it was just a nice grandfatherly older man from a different era that just didn’t see the harm in buying some treats for a couple young girls. When I was a kid we were never taught to fear or suspect strangers and we would have been over joyed if someone ever bought us candy.   Kate is nearly twelve so you’d think she’s have used better judgment but even she told us she though it may have been wrong but they weren’t on the street, they were in the store with the clerk right there so they felt it was OK. I can see her argument but that’s how these things start. The kind older gentleman who see’s you next walking home from school stops his car to talk and you recognize him from the store, (no longer a stranger) and he offers you a ride home then who knows what happens next. That’s the stranger danger your mother has been warning you about. It was the first time I had that pang that being the father of girls is going to be a lot more complex then I thought. As I dropped their sister off at Sparks later that evening I saw a police cruiser in the parking lot of the arena and I nearly went over to talk to him but decided we needed to first hear from that clerk and talk to our parent police officer friends before any real investigation happened. We may live in a sleepy bedroom community but not that many months ago by a ravine between our home and the friend Kate was with in the candy store a guy tried to pull a woman into the woods but she got away and screamed for help. That’s less then a 1 KM from our home as is this candy shop the girls were visiting so you can’t say it can’t happen here.

 

The conversation JoAnn had with the store clerk the next day at least confirmed this was merely a case of a kind-hearted man in the wrong era. A local grandfather who plays lotto all the time at the store always leaves some of his winnings with the clerks to be distributed to any kids buying candy. Normally this is 100% anonymous but on this occasion the kind gentleman was there to see it happen. Apparently he was a bit embarrassed, as he’s not looking for recognition. It’s kind of sad that a good-natured gesture in this day in age has to be treated with suspicion but that’s the era we live in these days. Quite honestly I don’t think it’s less dangerous these days as it was when I was a kid, there were creeps around then too, it’s just social media and the speed with which stories can travel have made even small local events world news.

 

I still recall dumpster diving behind a strip mall not far from home with a friend back when I was all of about 7 or 8 when a guy stepped up on the edge of the dumpster and he offered us chocolate bars. He looked like a high school kid we thought so we took the candy happily and then he asked Jo (short for Joan) to help him out. Of course she said, as this was a good guy he just gave us a full size chocolate bar each. He took her hand in his as he pulled out his penis and used her hand to stroke it till he climaxed. Neither of us really understood what was going on as at our age sex was the furthest thing from our minds. Once he was done and departed we stopped to examine what came out of his penis with a stick, we had no idea what it was. We then just went back to digging in the dumpster eating candy and never spoke of that incident again. Till I wrote it here now I’ve never shared it with anyone. It wasn’t till years later I realized what had happened that day and I often wonder if Jo recalls that day herself. At that age we both looked like boys especially since Jo was such a tomboy the creep probably didn’t even know she was a girl and it probably really didn’t matter, she was just standing closer to him so he grabbed her hand. If I was closer this may be a story about my own personal sexual assault. I haven’t seen Jo in over four decades but now the gravity of that incident and the fact I’m the father of four girls weighs in my mind. I sat and watched a female minor be sexually assaulted and I didn’t do a thing other then eat a chocolate bar. I hope if anyone is witness to something like this with one of my own daughters that they’ll actually speak up and say something.

 

JoAnn has been very clear about what is and isn’t acceptable. She was quite graphic in letting them know that NO ONE touches you in certain areas. If anyone does you don’t keep it quite you must speak up. If this takes place in public you need to be very vocal and get the attention of anyone around. It’s if this happens in private in what you hope is a safe place that things get a bit more difficult. She’s even been so careful to tell the girls going on a sleep over that if they ever feel uncomfortable around males they don’t know to just call and she’ll come get them, any time of the night. Statistics tell us most sexual assaults on minors happen in these sorts of environments. It could be an older brother, or a friend of a brother or an adult in the home. JoAnn has been very watchful of whose homes the girls go to sleepovers with. Generally we always know the parents and the one time we didn’t recently I think she only let Emma go because it was a slumber party with 5 other girls. There is strength in numbers I suppose.

 

Times have changed but I think the real change is awareness. We just didn’t know to even say anything back then in the 70’s and I was certainly never given any sort of talk about predators as a kid. I never saw this situation played out on TV, we didn’t have the Internet sharing stories of abuse. It just wasn’t getting any coverage back then but you know it was happening,

 

I hope our girls who have all been warned about stranger danger are never afraid to speak up. Even though Kate and her friend took the candy from the store clerk at least they told us so it’s obvious they already knew it was odd. They were warned to never accept gifts from strangers so this seemed to fit the bill but it was the third party of the store clerk that seemed to skew their perception if this was in bounds or not. Since this specific scenario was never mentioned we can’t blame them for not really knowing and maybe we need to add a few caveats to what’s taught to Sam and Dani in the very near future.

 

No one was physically hurt during my experience 4 decades ago but that fact I still remember the incident in the dumpster but I don’t recall my friend’s last name tells me the incident was bigger and did leave a lasting mark. It did change me, I just didn’t realize it at the time. I just hope the guy we never reported didn’t go onto bigger crimes later in life because it was so easy for him early on, like giving candy to a child. A part of me hopes he’s seen the inside of a cell but then I’d know someone else was assaulted and maybe that all could have changed if he’d been shut down early. I just hope the guy didn’t become some Clifford Olsen type just because he had success getting his rocks off as a teen. When you speak up about an assault like this you’re not just standing up for your own personal safety you’re paying it forward to any future victims this abuser might take. I’m so proud JoAnn took the bull by the horns and have clearly street proofed the girls. Even when they did take the candy they deep in their hearts actually did know it was peculiar. I wish we could live in a world where suspicion towards kindness wasn’t our first reaction but it’s always better to be safe then sorry. It’s also fine to say “No Thank you” when you’re offered something and after the reaction to this incident I have no doubt that’s exactly what Kate will do in the future. You don’t have to outwardly fear the person or be rude; you just say, “No thank you, my mom told me not to accept gifts from strangers”. Any adult that doesn’t respect that comment should be feared but in this day in age you should just be proud because you know that kid has parents that have taught their child well. I’m not claiming we’re great parents or blaming my own parents for not equipping me with the info I needed, it was a different time, and they didn’t say anything but then again what parents did back then? I was 7 out on my bike, dumpster diving with a friend miles from home behind a strip mall. We won’t let our kids leave the street and the one place we do let the older girls go in our neighborhood they are offered candy so do you blame us for being over cautious? I didn’t think so.

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