By Guest Blogger Kate Flora
My youngest niece has left for college. Kate is bright, beautiful, and enthusiastic about this new adventure. I’ve had a flurry of excited e-mails with pictures of her dorm room. She loves her classes. Her roommates are great. She calls to ask if I can order a book from Amazon and rush it to her when the school bookstore doesn’t have it. She e-mails to say she’s made the cheerleading team.
I’m so happy for her, this strong and agile young woman who wants to help others train to achieve their full athletic potential, and thrilled that she wants to share this with me. Yet my pleasure is tinged with sadness. I wish my sister, the mother who loved her so much, could be the recipient of those messages.
My sister Sara has been gone for ten years. I’m not sure what I believe about the afterlife, but I do know that sometimes I feel her spirit’s restless stirrings. Sara was a ruthless and incisive iconoclast, so usually she’s around to tweak my ego. Right now, though, she’s restless for a very different reason. Sara was hypervigilant about her children’s safety; now her daughter is embarking on an adventure that is full of wonder and promise, and fraught with danger.
Recently, I spent 2 ½ years researching and writing a book about a young woman’s murder. Amy St. Laurent was smart and lovely woman who believed in people’s essential goodness. She was also sensible, self-confident, and risk averse. She was forthright about keeping herself safe. She carried mace in her purse. She didn’t hesitate to leave uncomfortable situations or challenge those who made her feel unsafe. Yet one misstep put her in the hands of a charming predator without her cell phone, and within hours, Amy was dead.
We all want our children to believe that the world is a good place. We want them to feel safe, to be able to trust people, and to live their lives without looking over their shoulders. We also want them to be safe. To do that, they have to take responsibility for their own safety.
At every book talk I’ve given for Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts have thanked me for writing the book and asked for advice to keep their loved ones safe. With the help of Lisa Beecher, police chief at the University of Southern Maine and others, my co-writer, Portland Deputy Chief Joseph Loughlin and I developed a list of safety tips for young women to help them avoid being a victim. The last thing Amy St. Laurent’s mother heard from her daughter was “I love you, Mom,” at the end of a phone call. Tell your daughters, your granddaughters, your nieces or your friends that you love them and want them to stay safe. Please print out these tips and send them to the ones you love. Please call them and insist that they carry their cell phones and keep them charged.
· Statistics show that most sexual assaults involve alcohol and drugs. Ingestion of even a small amount can alter your perceptions and lower your defenses. Avoid excessive use of these substances.
· Trust your instincts. If a situation makes you feel uneasy, leave.
· If you go to a club or party, go with friends. Have an understanding that you will watch out for each other.
· Never leave your drink unattended. It only takes a few seconds for someone to add a debilitating substance, commonly known as a date rape drug, to your beverage.
· Never accept a drink from someone you don’t know well. Bartenders and waitpersons are the only strangers you should accept a drink from.
· Never drink anything that looks or smells strange. · Avoid drinking from punch bowls.
· If you feel very drunk after having only a small amount of alcohol, don’t take any chances. Tell your friend, the bartender, or waitperson that you think you may have been drugged.
· Women are often conditioned to be "nice," trusting and to spare other people’s feelings. If someone is interested in you and you don’t feel the same way, be straightforward. Don’t make excuses or try to spare their feelings. Just tell them you are not interested.
· Be cautious about giving out your personal information or that of others. The less information a stranger or casual acquaintance has about you, the better your chances of not becoming a victim.
· If you think you are being stalked, contact local law enforcement immediately.
· People are not always honest about themselves. Always keep this in mind.
· Don’t get into a vehicle with someone you don’t know well, because you become a prisoner if that person has negative intentions.
· If you suspect that you or someone else has ingested a date rape drug or sedative-like substance, get help immediately. Call 911 or have a friend help you get to a hospital. Tell medical staff what you suspect, so the appropriate tests and samples can be taken for evidence purposes and proper treatment. Date rape drugs do not stay in the body for long and delay may mean the loss of valuable evidence.
· If you a partying at a private location, remember that video cameras or tape recorders may be set up and operating even if you can’t see them.
· Don’t hesitate to call the police for help. Don’t feel you would be bothering them, or that your situation is not serious enough. They would much rather prevent a tragedy than respond to one.
· Keep your cell phone charged and keep it with you.
I just learned that my niece does not have a cell phone. We are going to take care of that today.
(Note: for tips about internet safety, go to www.findingamy.com and follow the links)
Kate Flora is the author of 10 books, including the Edgar nominated nonfiction book, Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine