When I was twelve I was walking home from Everett Junior High School on Church Street in San Francisco. As I neared the corner of 17th and Capp Streets a light blue Volkswagon pulled alongside me and the man inside spoke to me from the driver's side of the vehicle. His window was down. He asked if I needed a ride home. I said "no, thank you," and continued walking. As I approached the corner the man turned in front of me blocking my path, then leaned over and opened his passenger door wide. He offered me money to get inside the car. I stepped off the curb and ran behind his car and across Capp Street.
As I ran, the man did a U-turn and came after me. He called out to me again, telling me to stop. I continued to run down 17th Street towards home at 17th and Folsom. I didn't think the man would follow me further but he did. He actually passed me as we both approached Van Ness Street but he had to stop for the red light and that left me with enough time to get away from him. I didn't think to run into any of the stores along the way, or to ask for help from anyone on the street. But I did remember what I had learned in school and I got the license plate number. It is a number that I still remember to this day.
It was a race against traffic and luckily, I won. I made it to my door before the man saw where I lived and my mother called the police. They came over with a book of photos and I was able to pick the man out of several photos that were shown to me. Then four other photos were placed in front of me and again, I identified the same man who had followed me. As it turned out he had been approaching young girls at other local junior high schools and trying to lure them into his vehicle. I was asked to testify in court but fear reigned and I refused. I was afraid he would come after me. I often wonder what happened with that man - I was never given all the details of the case against him and I have felt guilt for not doing my part where justice is concerned. I was just too terrified.
I have done my best to teach my daughter how important it is never to talk to strangers. I have tried my hardest to teach her what to do if someone approaches her. I have told her never to open the door unless I say it is o.k. I don't let her play outside unless I am with her. We do role-playing activities. We have a secret code word that only she and I and her grandmother know. All of these things will help, but ultimately, it will be up to her to defend herself if she is ever in this predicament. We are taught these helpful things at a young age, but when we are put on the spot it is easy to forget. Kids trust adults to do what is best for them. In my case my mind went blank and all I could think to do was run home. When I saw the license plate number I had a jolt of reality and I remembered what I had learned about writing down that important bit of information. I had a pencil and I wrote it down on the book I was carrying, but because of the emotional impact of that event, I have never been able to forget that number.
No matter how much we teach our children each set of circumstances is different. Abductors can lure or snatch a child right from under our eyes. There have been times that I've wondered what the outcome would have been if I didn't have the common sense that kept me from getting into that Volkswagon. Fortunately, I will never have to know.
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