Every Parent’s Fear
I had a brush with the greatest fear that I as a mother have. Since the day I found out I was pregnant with my child, I have feared someone taking her from me. You see the news stories about children being abducted from their homes, from the store, from inside locked cars. . . How about at a cheerleading competition? Has anyone ever worried about that?
Stepping back for a few moments before I go into what happened. . . I am a HUGE “Criminal Minds” fan. It is a show about the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). These people are called in when there are serial killers to find, when there are federal crimes that need solving, and when there are missing children. In the case of missing children, they get a call and respond within 24 hours of the actual abduction.
There was an episode of Criminal Minds where a young girl was taken from a soccer practice where her mother was the coach. Practices were held at a park in their city, and it was well-populated with families, people, and even police officers walking around. This particular episode, one of the “veteran” agents, Special Agent Jason Gideon and the young “genius”, Dr. Spencer Reid, were sitting in a car and watching a suspect with one of the local officers that called them in on the case. The exchange in this scene stuck with me:
Reid: “Stranger danger.”
Gideon: “Flooded the schools with it.”
Reid: “I remember them coming to my classroom. It was “Officer Friendly” with stranger danger coloring books.”
Gideon: “Taught a whole generation about a scary man in a trench coat, hiding behind a tree. Then we learned that strangers are only a. . . fraction of the offenders out there. Most are people you see every day – your family, your neighbors, schoolteachers. You know the rest. Prepared our children for the 1% of the danger, made them more vulnerable to 99%. So we’ve been wrong before. All we can do is learn from it, and hopefully be better next time.”
I knew exactly what they were talking about. I also remember the police coming into my elementary school and telling us all about the bad strangers that were out there looking to hurt me and my friends. You weren’t supposed to speak to strangers, don’t take candy from strangers, don’t get into a car with a stranger and don’t get NEAR a car with a stranger in it. They had the homes with the red “Helping Hand” signs in the windows, offering children a safe haven in the event that they felt threatened or that someone was following them. Come to find out (in a neighboring school district), one of those homes providing a “safe haven” was a man that molested three different boys over a 4 year period.
This exchange on “Criminal Minds” stuck with me since the day I first saw it. I had found it interesting that instead of preparing me and my friends for the “true” dangers in life, they went for the 1%. It was only years later – when I was an adult and of the age to be a parent myself – did schools start talking about the inappropriate touching and that even if your dad does it you need to tell. That program is responsible for stopping so many child molesters and pedophiles; but so many more go on for years without being reported. But what about what goes on in the world of cheerleading? Has anyone ever thought of that?
I am not talking about “inappropriate behavior” between a young coach and an under aged athlete (though I could, for that accounts for the majority of incidents in the world of cheerleading), rather I am talking about the athletes of the Tiny, Mini and Youth age. The ages of 3 to 11 are a very vulnerable age. They are the ones that we are encouraging to go out onto the mat and be cute, putting the uniform on them that at times is about as big as they are, putting make up on them, teasing their hair and making them look like the older athletes in cheerleading. We think it is cute how the Minis have the same uniform as the Senior 4 team. We are sending our littles to practice in spanks and sports bras that could fit on a doll. They don’t care; they look like Suzie Rock Star on the Senior team and they LOVE it!
Now before I get barraged with comments about uniforms and practice attire – I GET IT!! I have an 8 year old that has a vast collection of Nike Pros and sports bras. She loves to practice in these garments, and chooses to ask for them all the time. I also understand why they wear them, and I have no issue with that at all. But I am making a point, so I needed to step into this world for a moment.
Back to the event that happened this particular weekend that brought me to this blog. We were at one of the larger events being held this weekend, with THOUSANDS of athletes, coaches and parents walking around and saying “hi” to one another, taking pictures with each other, and so on. There were people at the doors, so kids were not getting out without an adult (if they were very young). There were security guards walking around to assure that athletes were not stunting in the undesignated areas of the building as well as to make sure everyone was safe. There were also “gaggles” of cheerleaders running around with their friends. Our gym was no exception to this, with groups of athletes walking around together checking out what vendors had, going to the concession stands, watching other teams perform, meeting other athletes and taking pics with them, and just busting out and having fun with friends. My 8 year old was one of a group of 8 athletes/friends, ranging in age from 7 years old up to 10 years old hanging out and having fun. They were by the escalators, playing on them like any other kid in that age group would – trying to walk up the down escalator and walk down the up escalator. There were some of our gym parents nearby, but not right there watching them.
As the group came down the down escalator (one can only assume there was a security guard informing them the error of their ways), the 7 year old (a tiny peanut to say the least) was grabbed and pulled off the escalator by a man. She cried out, and the group loudly questioned the man, “Hey! What are you doing?!”
Instead of responding to them, he began taking photos of them with a large camera (as my daughter described it). They grabbed one another and ran away – right into the area where the gym parents had gathered as “their spot” for the competition. Like many other gyms ours has numerous parents that are parents to ALL of the kids. I consider all of the athletes as “my kids”, and state that often. My daughter knows that she can go to any of the parents from our gym and she will be safe with them and that they will get her to me. That is what happened at this moment. This group found the parents of the 7 year old and told them what had happened. Immediately they sprang into action. Dad (a muscular former football player and wrestler), headed out to see if he could find the “jerk”. He was followed by another dad (and mind you has 2 daughters that are much older than this group), and a couple of other fathers. The 7 year old’s mother told me and the other moms involved what she was told, and we went to a staff member of the event producers to make them aware of the situation. They were AMAZING!! They immediately contacted security, the police and organized a search of the entire crowd and venue of the man that the girls described (as accurately as any group of 7 to 10 year olds could – which fit about half the men at the event that day). Watching the wave of people searching for this one creep was astonishing to me. The police waited until after awards (which most of us stood by our kids for at that point because they were very scared to be without an adult right by them) and then pulled us and the kids into a room so they could speak to us all.
They asked the kids what happened, and they got everything from a guy grabbing the 7 year old to the conspiracy of the Boogie Man coming up from between the steps of the escalator and casting an evil spell (well, maybe not that grand, but you get the idea). No matter what you tell your kids, they want to grow up and be independent. They want to go and “hang out” with their friends and do “kid things” without mom “cramping their style”. These kids were no different, and in all honesty, my daughter hadn’t told me she had gone off with them until after this all happened. I had told her to stay in an area near where I was sitting, where she was close by so that I could find her if needed. She did for a bit until the others wanted to walk away, and my child wanted to be a part of the group and went with them.
After the officer spoke to each of the girls by themselves (can you imagine a group of cheerleaders trying to talk about something that was exciting or grand?), my daughter and I got our coats so we could go get lunch. At that point the questions started from her.
“Why did that man grab “Suzie”?”
“Honey, some people do bad things to kids your age. This is why mommy always wants to know where you are.”
“But what do they do?”
“Stuff that is horrible and I don’t want to think about. They do things that you won’t like, and they sometimes kill kids so that they can’t tell.”
“Where would he take us?”
“He could have taken you anywhere. He could have taken you out of the country and daddy and I couldn’t find you.” This is where I started to cry because the thought of it truly played on that fear I have. “And the worst thing in my life that I could ever think of is not having you with me. Daddy and I love you so much and our lives would be horrible without you with us.”
My daughter started to cry at that moment as well. I hadn’t wanted to scare her by crying, but it had been something I couldn’t stop or hide from her at that point. We were in the car, and she was looking right at me. I wanted her to understand exactly what could happen to her, but I hadn’t wanted to tell her all of the horrible things – the sexual abuse, the physical abuse, the torture, the selling into slavery, the prostitution – that could have been waiting for the 7 year old, or for her, or any other child that he could have grabbed.
“I don’t know,” I said. That was the truth – I don’t know what he was going to do with them. I can only imagine what he is doing with them, and it sickens me to know that my baby is one of those he is doing it to. It angers me that the S.O.B. stole pictures of my baby to pervert and do horrible things with. “But if you ever are grabbed by someone you don’t know, you yell, you scream, and you kick like a cheerleader. You be mean, you don’t care what he says, and you do whatever it takes to get away from them. You hear me?”
She looked at me with wide eyes, and then a sly smile crossed her face. “I will kick him as hard as I can where no guy ever wants to be kicked,” she said.
I had to laugh at that statement. “That’s right,” I said, nodding. “You do just that. As hard as you can.”
Now that I can breathe again, I will go on with this all. That is what happened to us on a competition weekend. That is the horrible thing that could have been catastrophic for a family, and is still sickening to me as I recall all of it. Why did I tell the story? So that other parents can learn from my experience. We are all too trusting of the world when it comes to cheerleading. When we are at a cheer competition, everyone is chatting with everyone else, strangers come together with a common love – their children. We are all there to cheer on our athletes, watch and cheer on other athletes, and see our athletes compete for the top spot. This is a world FOR kids, right? We all know that. . .
And so do the sick perverts that prey on kids. I go back to February of 2013 at the Alamodome in Texas. The headline: Sex Offender Videotaping Girls at Alamodome Cheer Competition. Face it – it is PRIME TIME for pedophiles! Little boys and girls smiling, looking cute, in clothing that is “form-fitting”, little girls all made up and wearing cheerleading uniforms (ask any guy about dressing up like a cheerleader and you will get that one). It is the purest of innocence corrupted by perverts. We as parents look at them and see cute little girls looking all adorable; the perverts see a sexual being. It is sickening, but it is exactly what they see and why they come to watch.
What can be done? I don’t know. These events are open to the public, so screening is definitely out. Making it illegal to use cameras would help with photographs, but if you are like me, you love taking pictures of the little darlings. It is a quandary that every event producer and parent has to deal with. It is horrible, but it is life. The thing I can say is that now my child hasn’t left my side like she used to since the incident. She stuck to me like glue for the rest of the event, holding my hand, putting my arm around her, following me everywhere I went, and even asking one of the dads to protect her if I got hurt.
Whatever comes of this incident, I will tell you that there were 8 little girls that learned something that day. My daughter learned that there are monsters out in the world, and they scare her mommy to death. But she also learned that practicing your jumps and kicks in cheer can come in very handy for other things besides cheer.http://www.heartofcheer.com/news/every-parents-fear/http://www.heartofcheer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/protect-children-1024x682.jpghttp://www.heartofcheer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/protect-children-150x150.jpgBlogCheerleadersCoachesEducationIndustryLifestyleNewsParentscheerleading,children,safety,Stranger-Danger