*TRIGGER WARNING: this article touches on child kidnapping, stalking and being followed so if you are sensitive to these topics, you might want to read a different article.*
We've all heard tragic stories on the news of people being kidnapped or stalked. Sadly, it's not a rare occurrence in the modern age, especially with social media making it so much easier to find out where people are at all times. It was found by the charity Action Against Abduction that 50 children on average are abducted every year and the National Violence Against Women Survey found that 1 in 12 women have been stalked at some point in their lives compared to 1 in 45 men.
One of the most well known child abduction cases is the case of Madeleine McCann. Madeleine McCann disappeared from a holiday apartment in Praia De Luz, Portugal, on 3rd May 2007. Madeleine was left by her parents in the apartment with her younger brothers and sisters when she was only 3. Her parents were dining at a restaurant nearby with friends and her mother found her missing around two hours after they had left the apartment. Maddie has not yet been found but police are still searching and receiving funds to look for Madeleine.
Not all cases end or start in kidnapping. A lot of people find themselves being followed. I have been followed myself. I was walking my dog and a man in a dark blue shirt and black trousers got out of his car and started walking behind me. I wasn't too worried until I turned back around to walk back the way I came and he ran at me, trying to grab my coat. I had to run all the way home and I was terrified. I had a panic attack and reported it to the police.
That's unfortunately not the only time where I have been followed. Another time, I was walking home from a community group I was attending. It was late in the evening, around 9.30pm/10ish and I saw a white van driving alongside me. Cliche, I know. He kept driving alongside me all the way home as I went to cross the road, he stopped and asked if I was okay and if I wanted a ride home. I said ‘no, thank you’ and tried to carry on walking but he parked his van in front of the crossing and asked where I lived. I said ‘not far’ and he insisted I told him and gave him my address. I refused and another man stopped in his car behind the van and asked if I was okay. The man in the van gave up and drove away and the man in the car spent a few more minutes checking that I was alright.
These were both scary experiences and being followed is always going to be a scary experience. But there are ways to protect and look after yourself.
If someone tries to grab you, all manners are out of the window.
If someone tries to take you or touch you and you don't know them, forget everything you've been told about not throwing a tantrum. It is perfectly okay to scream and shout and kick. It gives you the best chance of throwing the person off.
Try and find someone to look after you.
If someone is following you, generally they will be put off if you're with someone else. So try and always go out with a friend so you're not alone and if you do end up alone, try and find a shop to go in to and tell the owner what's happening. If you can't find a shop owner or even better a police man or anyone else at all, try and find a mum with kids and explain to them that you're being followed and would it be okay if you stayed with them for a while.
Make use of a code word.
If you're ever in a situation where you feel unsafe, a code word is a brilliant thing to have. Choose a word that you could slip into conversation like ‘apple.’ Make sure your parents and anyone else you might contact in an emergency knows that apple is your code word. Then if you think you're being followed or you feel uncomfortable, ring your emergency contact and start a normal conversation before slipping in your code word. You could say something like ‘did you remember to get apples from the shop?’ and then with that use of your code word, whoever it is will know you're in danger and come and get you. It's worked for me if I've been at a sleepover where I feel uncomfortable or if I've been invited somewhere I don't want to go. It's genius.
If someone is following you, your only choice really is run. They might run after you but running is your best chance to get away. If they're in a car, run in the opposite direction. It'll buy you some time as they have to turn the car around.
I realise that this article makes it sound very dramatic and scary. Being followed or being kidnapped is scary, of course it is. But finally, try not to panic. Try and stay calm. Usually everything works out okay.
You are strong and you are a fighter, my friend.
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Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers worldwide with an online platform to share their own experiences to be able to help, inform and educate others on a variety of different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all young people. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.