The murder of Chelsea King drives home the need to teach kids how to defend themselves.
For goodness sakes, if you have young people in your life, please get them trained in self-protection skills! How can I spell a scream from the very bottom of my soul? AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHH. Another young woman is dead. The body of 17-year-old Chelsea King was found in a shallow grave in San Diego County. And what does the uneducated, illiterate media obsess about? The alleged perpetrator, John Albert Gardener III: a convicted and released sex offender.
OK, please understand this: I am all for rigorous sentencing for dangerous people. Gardener should have never been let out of prison.
That said, I am heart-broken that so many of our kids -- especially girls -- are "protected" from the real world to their own detriment. I am certain that a large percentage of assaults on women and girls could be prevented if they take very simple, brains-not-brawn personal safety courses, starting when they are young. I promise you that girls will not lose their sugar if we add a few "hot" spices to their drawer of flavors. Every girl and boy needs to know how to handle abuse or assault situations. The irony is that, once they learn, there's a good chance they will never have to use those skills because of intuition. Yes, that's right: intuition kicks in once you learn how to actually fend off an attacker. But here we go again: the "ABC Morning Show" had a lengthy segment about Chelsea King's abduction, rape and murder. Not ONCE was there a mention of training our kids in handling encounters with dangerous people. Are we insane as a culture?
The name of the segment on ABC: "Was Chelsea King's Death Preventable?" Yes, they intimate, by being stricter with the sentencing and release of sex offenders. Obviously, that would help. However, any mention of personal safety courses -- which should be as ubiquitous as fire drills or traffic safety rules -- was glaringly missing.
John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" was featured, talking about interviewing President Obama on the 1000th anniversary of a show that has clearly made a difference in the apprehension of violent criminals.
As I watched the clip, I chanted, "Please, please, please mention giving Basic Self-Defense 101 to our kids!" Here's a "teachable" moment for the leader of the free world who has two daughters. And...there was nothing about self-defense. Nothing. Nada.
I do not promote self-defense as the ONLY approach to keeping kids safe. We've got to get out of the either/or mentality which makes people short-sighted about solutions. And I also don't say that self-defense will work EVERY time. However, to ignore tools that are easily teachable, and that could spell the difference between life and death, is immoral and unconscionable.
Chelsea King's murder is especially frustrating because almost every story about her mentions that another jogger in the very same park was able to elbow Gardener in the face this past December and escape.
Thank goodness I received an e-mail containing a student-generated petition from Chelsea King's high school peers demanding that self-defense be mandatory for high school girls. As a self-defense advocate, I would recommend it for all kids starting in grade school, but this petition is a start. Please help the petition drive by going to The Young Women's Self Defense Initiative petition. (Mac users who wish to sign should use Firefox.)
As a board member of Impact Personal Safety, I know from first-hand experience that we have to be careful, even though we're nonprofit, to not appear like "ambulance chasers" when tragedies like this happen. We're often accused of blaming the victim, or the victim's parents, for them not being trained. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We know the fallacies out there; it's not the parents' fault for not understanding that self-defense skills are easily learned, regardless of size or gender and yes, even age.
I'm now teaching kids' self-defense classes for children ages six to 12. It makes my heart sing to see these kids -- boys and girls -- learning how to say "No!" with grace and ease. We also teach them basic escape techniques. Just like puppies learn to wrestle and playfully bite, these young people are doing the same type of "rehearsal" in the event that someone tries to abduct or hurt them.
The most common question I get is: "Doesn't it freak kids out to be taught how to defend themselves?" The answer: No. They don't freak out at learning traffic safety rules. They don't walk around being afraid of cars because they know that cars could possibly hurt or kill them. Don't we owe our children skills to handle bullies, or God forbid, predators?
Could we manage to collectively honor Lily Burk (last year's tragic murder victim), and now Chelsea King, by insisting that our kids learn how to protect themselves?
PS: I'm the "Safety Godmother," and I'll gladly speak to your parents' group for free. You'll walk away with information that could save you or your child's life. I also want to remind you of my column earlier this year which advocates that teens learn self-defense before they get their drivers' licenses.
Finally, for a vivid video example of how powerful and effective an IMPACT Kids Basics class can be, check out this 2001 segment from "Dateline NBC".
Note: This post appears both here (in an expanded version) and in my column in the March 18, 2010 issue of the Pasadena Weekly, for which it was written.