Amanda Brunker: 'I used to carry a knife because I was that scared to walk alone. I was lucky. Ana and Jastine were sadly not'
It is with a very heavy heart that I write today's piece. I had planned to discuss new research regarding the implications of keeping your child too clean, but I can't think of that now. The senseless deaths of Ana Kriegel and Jastine Valdez are in my thoughts. Two young women murdered through the misadventure of others.
As it is, many women live in fear of attacks from men. Ana and Jastine's deaths have now exacerbated that.
Growing up, I remember being terrified walking certain roads home from school. I'd run them or when possible, take longer detours around them. I hate to admit it, but there were times I used to carry a knife on me, as I was that scared to walk alone. As a grown up, I realise that that was stupid. If I was attacked, that knife could have been used on me. Thankfully, I was always fairly streetwise and managed to keep myself safe.
There were a couple of hairy situations in my teens and 20s, including one time I was chased down the road after disembarking from a Nitelink at 2am - understandably, I shared taxis with co-workers after that. But I was lucky. Ana and Jastine were sadly not.
Of course many young people, girls and boys, can be vulnerable to attacks from people they know. But let's focus on stranger-danger and empowering our children to run away from intimidating, odd and uncomfortable encounters. Because anyone who has ever experienced shock will know, in times of panic, it is normal to lose the power of your voice. And the ability to scream or call out for help isn't always an option.
I have always warned my sons about talking to strangers. I have it drilled into them that no adult in a car should ever ask them for directions or help looking for a lost dog. No matter how polite or how simple the request, while walking alone, my boys know never speak to a person in a car, or stop anywhere - even if they vaguely know them.
I realise that some parents want to shield their kids from scaremongering and they don't ever want to tell them that the bogeyman is real. But we can't wrap them in cotton wool. I understand that some children will be more anxious, but you know your child best and how to tip-toe around issues; you should still deliver the information that they need to keep them safe.
Once your child is allowed to walk anywhere on their own, they must be aware of stranger-danger. Whether their journeys are short ones or they're taking themselves to school or the shops, your babies must know that they can't interact with strangers.
As the mother of two sociable and (mostly) mannerly boys, it was a difficult one to try and explain to them not to respond to strangers that might seem like nice people. But they know its okay to walk away from situations that don't make them feel comfortable, even if they feel like it's rude.
They know adults should never approach a child and they know to report when they've seen people hanging around that shouldn't be.
Remember, informing your child of evil people is not ruining their childhood, it's protecting it. It's about making them smart, not scared.