One too many

Illustration by Ching Ching Cheng

One too many

The murder of Chelsea King drives home the need to teach kids how to defend themselves

By Ellen Snortland 03/18/2010

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For goodness’ sake, 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? AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH! Another young woman is dead. The body of 17-year-old Chelsea King was found in a shallow grave March 2 in San Diego County. And what do 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 never have been let out of prison. 
 
That said, I am heartbroken 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. “Good Morning America” had a lengthy segment about King’s abduction, rape and murder. Not ONCE was there a mention of training our kids to handle encounters with potentially dangerous people. Are we, as a culture, insane? 
 
The name of the segment on ABC: “Was Chelsea King’s Death Preventable?” Yes, they intimate, it may have been prevented if there had been stricter laws regarding the sentencing and release of sex offenders. Obviously, that would help. However, the idea 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 and talked about his interviewing President Obama on the 1,000th episode 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 Self-Defense 101 classes to our kids!” Here was a teachable moment for the leader of the free world, who has two young daughters. But 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 that makes people short-sighted about solutions. I also don’t believe that self-defense will work every time. However, to ignore tools that are easily teachable, and could spell the difference between life and death, is immoral and unconscionable.
 
King’s murder is especially frustrating because almost every story about her mentions that another jogger, who encountered Gardner in the very same park in December, elbowed Gardener in the face and escaped. 
 
Thank goodness I received an email this morning containing a student-generated petition from 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 at thepetitionsite.com/1/TYWSDI. (Mac users who wish to sign should use Firefox.)
As a board member of the Impact Personal Safety organization (impactpersonalsafety.com), I know from firsthand experience that we have to be careful, even though we’re a nonprofit, not to appear like “ambulance chasers” when tragedies like this happen.
 
We’re often accused of blaming the victim, or the victim’s parents, for his or her 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 self-defense classes for children ages 6 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 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 scream in rage and honor Lily Burke (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 any parents group for free. You’ll walk away with information that could save your life or the life of your child. I also want to remind you of the column I wrote earlier this year, which advocates that teens learn self-defense before they get their drivers’ licenses. See pasadenaweekly.com/cms/story/detail/license_to_live/7566/

Ellen teaches a writers’ workshop in Altadena. Contact her at snortland.com or thesafetygodmother.com 

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