Childrearing

Does The Safety Worry About Girls Ever End?

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The morning that Leiby Kletzy‘s remains were discovered, I had a conversation on the subway with a male friend who is a father to two sons. Visibly shaken by the news, he told me that that story had prompted him to have more aggressive conversations with his children about who to trust when on the street by themselves. His sons had already been provided the standard talking points of “don’t talk to strangers,” and “don’t get in people’s cars.” But before the details came out about Leiby perhaps being too trusting of his killer, my friend’s assumption was that the boy had been tailed and potentially snatched from the street. His conversations with his sons, he told me, covered new ground in which he told them to be wary of people on the street who might be following them and what actions to take.

He sighed and said that he looked forward to the day when his sons reached the age in which he wouldn’t have such worries anymore. He expressed relief at not having a daughter, as there is no such age cut-off for abduction with girls. As a man, he observed, he could always be killed. But his wife, he pointed out, is in her 40s but could still be snatched by a so inclined evil-doer.

His observation stayed with me as details about Leiby’s death began to come to light: that he willingly got into the killer’s car, that the killer panicked after he became aware of the massive search being conducted for the boy and killed him, and that his effort to conceal the boy resulted in his dismemberment. Women and girls are frequently murdered by people that they trust. Women and girls are also more likely to be sexually assaulted by people that they they know than by people that they don’t know. In many ways, Leiby’s story could very much belong to a young girl or even an older woman, simply because of the cultural entitlement to girls and women that exists regardless of their age.

I later had a discussion with my father in which he admitted that my safety as a woman will always be worrisome for him. That even though I’m an adult, his concerns about someone grabbing me up when I was age five still linger into womanhood, but with slight modifications. Obviously women are not children, nor should they be conflated with them in the slightest. But even though I’m older with wiser assessments of my surroundings, what constitutes risky behavior, and actions I can take to protect myself, the reality is that I will still be seen by predators in the same way that they would regard a child: helpless, vulnerable, and completely for the taking.

Such is a horrendous truth for parents who must contend with raising smart, independent girls while also considering the risks that their daughters face. Pepper spray, self-defense techniques, and even simple safety tips (don’t sit in your car unattended, don’t walk home alone) are all valid parenting tactics for keeping daughters safe. But while those methods function more like quick fixes to potentially dangerous scenarios, the larger work that must be performed by both parents and the childless alike is a consistent push back against the notion that girls and women are for the taking. There will always be new, innovative ways and tips to fend off predators, but their existence is no doubt perpetuated by a particular mindset that is long overdue for change.