Families in San Tan Valley, located 45 miles east of Phoenix, had always thought they lived in a safe neighborhood. Tons of young kids roamed the streets between the houses and the local park, but a recent event has likely sparked feelings of fear amongst those living in the area.
Last Thursday, a 10-year-old girl was walking home with a friend when a man in a white SUV pulled up and tried to persuade her to get into the vehicle.
The man, who used his hand to cover most of his face during the encounter, was a white male in his 40s, wearing a red shirt and sporting a short beard. He told the 10-year-0ld there had been an accident and she needed to get in the car. “Hurry, get in!” he demanded. “Your brothers are in trouble!”
Luckily, the 10-year-old knew something was off.
Deciding to test the man, she asked him for ‘the codeword’— a request which immediately flustered him and sent him on his way.
Having a codeword is a practice encouraged to promote child safety in situations just like this. Basically, the code word is a secret word that only parents and their children know. “This secret or ‘code’ word should be easy enough for the children to remember but obscure enough so that the assailant wouldn’t be able to guess,” advised Busy Parents Online. The idea is that when someone is supposed to pick up the child, the parent will give them the code word. If the person does not know the word, the child shouldn’t leave with them.
Turns out the girl’s family had only recently developed a code word.
“We actually just came up with it a few months ago,” her mother, Brenda James, told ABC15.
“It was something really recent from a story I read.”
By some stroke of luck, their timing was exceptional— this one small practice likely saved the girl’s life.
Sheriff Mark Lamb considers the event to be a wake-up call for parents who tend to focus on the dangers lurking online. While online predators do exist, he says we also need to be cautious when it comes to public places like malls and parks. “Kudos to the parents of this child for having a code and talking to their children about stranger danger,” said Lamb.
“We hope by putting this out, it will encourage parents to have that conversation and create a plan with their children, so they know what to do if they are in that situation.”
Stu Auty, founding president of the Canadian Safe School Network with more than 30 years experience in the field of education, told CTV News parents shouldn’t just rely on code words to keep their children safe, however. He also recommends teaching kids to find the nearest adult when a stranger tries to talk to them and to tell somebody when they think they’re being watched. Above all, however, try to avoid letting them travel alone: “Children really shouldn’t be alone. [And] If they are going to and from school, they should be accompanied by other children.”
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