During a safety and self defense awareness fundraiser for missing Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar, members of the Morgan Hill Police Department and martial arts instructors advised attendees on how to stay safe and avoid predators.
Here's a guide detailing what you, your friends and family can do to prevent or handle dangerous situations involving a predator. Read on and let us know if you have any other tips or suggestions on ways to protect children, teens and adults.
MHPD School Resource Officer Sara Alanis
Online Safety: Don't post your location on social media sites. Predators can see where you are if you "check in" somewhere or say you are going to a particular place.
The same goes for information on where you live or what school you go to.
"Do not post everything about your life on Facebook or MySpace," she said. "I see that way too much."
Bullying: Report bullying and cyber bullying if you see it happening. Stopping the cycle before it progresses any further will help everyone stay safe.
"Typically, victims of bullying don't say anything is happening," Alanis said. "It progresses over the years and more people are able to bully them. The bystanders need to come up, say something and stand up for the victim."
Dating: Meet your date in a neutral place. Don't let them know where you live. Let a friend or family member know where you are going and don't lie. Tell your parents what their first and last name is. Don't leave food or drinks unattended.
"If you don't feel comfortable, follow your hunch," Alanis said.
Child Safety: Remember "stranger danger." It is not normal for adults to ask young children for help in doing something, offer them food or offer to show them something like a firework. Young children need to be aware that this is not normal behavior.
Increased Awareness: Do not be "buried in your cell phone." Be aware of where you are and your surroundings, including the cross streets where you are located.
"The person who knows where they are is less likely to be targeted as a victim," she said.
Follow the ABC's of Safety: Awareness—Knowing what is and isn't safe around you
Boundaries—Having a safe haven, or place that you know will keep you free from danger
Call for Help—Yell "Fire!" "You're not my mom/dad!" or "No!" Power words like these will invoke a response from others around you.
"Awareness is especially important," said Russ Rocchi, owner of WCWMA in Morgan Hill. "The biggest thing for teenagers is don't text and walk. When it's time to walk and time to be safe, awareness will help you out immensely."
Child Safety: Develop code words or phrases for your children that can be shared with trusted family and friends. If someone approaches your child saying, "Your mom/dad asked me to pick you up," and they don't know the code word or phrase, that is a signal for your child to seek out a teacher or other adult.
Trust Your Instincts: Margarita Jimenez, owner of TFL, said that in speaking with victims of predators, they often tell her their instincts told them something was wrong before the attack took place.
"They'll say that the hair went up on their neck or they got a gut feeling," she said. "We have all of the vocabulary already, but we don't follow it. Pay attention to it."
Even is someone looks normal yet you feel something if off about them or the situation you are in, don't rationalize it by saying you are being silly or paranoid.
Make Eye Contact: Not only will this help you determine someone's character if they avert their gaze from you, it can also be a key piece in identifying a person later on.
Be Alert: Jimenez said that predators want "easy victims." Someone who is alert is less likely to be victimized.
Carrying yourself with confidence is also a sign to predators that you won't be an easy target.
Develop a Personal Safety Strategy: Learn how to increase your awareness and intuition. Learn to to maintain a safe distance. Learn to create a "personal fence" and be prepared to act if someone breaches that fence.
For previous coverage of the Sierra LaMar case, refer to the Sierra LaMar Disappearance: Comprehensive Updates and Information page.