By Guest Blogger Rachel Haggerty, author of the blog Redemption Red: The Haggerty Life

I’ve had a few weeks to calm down. I am not writing this to promote fear, only awareness of the world we are raising our babies in today.

Just last month, I brought my four children to a Triad-area thrift shop that we frequent regularly. We went there for specific items. Like every place we go in public, I explain the rules before we get out of the van. The rules are different for each place, but one remains the standard: Hold onto me at all times. (Yes even my ten year old.)

So there we were –  all five in a row scoping out dance wear – when a woman in her thirties approaches my daughters. Just them. No eye contact with me whatsoever.

“Hello girls. My you are so beautiful. Are you enjoying being off of school today? My daughter sure is,” she says.
(Said daughter no where to be seen.)

I teach my children to be polite, but cautious. They nodded their heads and turned away. The woman was too close for my liking.

“How old are you girls? What school do you go to?”

They looked at me, knowing they don’t give out personal information to strangers. I replied for them:
“They are two years apart,” I said.

“Oh but what county?”

“We don’t go by counties schedules.”

She gets closer and literally hands Adah an article of clothing.

“Here, I picked this out for my daughter Nora. She’s at school today, but I grabbed two. Would you want the other one? She’s 8.”

I took it from her and thanked her while ushering all my children to the end of the clothing rack. She followed and continued talking to my girls.

One of them sneezed. “Oh my gracious,” she said. “When my daughter sneezes I always tell her she’s growing. You know, she’s 9. How old are you pretty girl?” (Note she changed her daughter’s age.)

All the while she is searching through clothing for her “daughter.”

I knew what was happening. She was trying to get my daughters to trust her because she was a mother, and engage them in a conversation.

As mommas, we know when someone is genuine and when someone means harm. My massive red flags were up! I started telling the kids it was time to go, only for her to reply to EVERYTHING I said.

“Oh! They have dance tonight? Where?”

“Have they called their school for tomorrow? What school is that again?”

“Bye girls! So glad to have met you!”

When the girls and I ignored every comment, I saw her face turn angry – completely opposite from the sweet disposition she had before. The girls noticed as well, as we went to the checkout line.

****I also teach my children to never judge anyone based on the way that they look. I did not mention this to them, but I noticed bright red sores around her mouth and neck, which to me, indicated drug use. ****

Why am I sharing this? Well, as many times as I have educated my children on strangers and safety in public, I usually refer to a man. That wasn’t the case this time. There are just as many women working in human trafficking. After doing some research, I learned that many times when it involves children, they stage a friendly woman first to let the children’s guard down. (North Carolina is not immune to human trafficking. Read TMoM’s recent post about it HERE.)

As soon as the woman saw I was onto her, she started putting items back on the racks. Once we got to the check out line she was no where in sight. I walked all my babies to the van and locked the doors.

Do I have proof she was out to harm my children? Nope. But whatever she was doing, it was inappropriate and too personal for my liking. I never want to live in fear, but I DO take serious precautions while in public with my kids. It’s not just men we need to be on the lookout for.

I realize this type of information can help others. The following points are things we talk about at home, including precautions we take in public. Some of these are common sense, some more intense, but you can never be too careful.

1. NEVER let a child use the restroom alone. (I don’t even allow this at church )

2. Inform your children that an adult should NEVER be asking them for help finding something, lifting something. Huge red flag!

3. Inform your children that an adult should never try to get you to get in their vehicle saying things like, “Your Mom is running late. She told me to take you home.” Or any similar conversation.

4.  One point I hate to add in, but I recently said this to my children: “If someone is trying to get you in their vehicle and threatens to hurt me, your siblings, your friends, or your family if you do not comply, know this is just to try to scare you. DO NOT think about what they would do to someone else. YOU RUN. In the case that you are grabbed, you kick them straight in the groin, and run.”

5. If my toddler is in the shopping cart (I usually baby wear to avoid this), I keep my hand on him the entire shopping trip. Turning around, hand on baby. Picking up an item, hand on baby.

6. When loading groceries, this is how I protect the kids from being taken: Hold the baby at all times while loading the groceries. Unlock the van door and load the big kids into their seats, open the back of the van to load groceries. LOCK the van while I’m loading the groceries. I have the keys in MY hand like an upside down V, ready to punch anyone straight in the eyes that comes at me. Close the back. Get into the van with the baby, lock again. Climb to the back to buckle up the baby, all while safe inside the locked van. This may sound extreme, but its such a chaotic time that predators are looking for frazzled and distracted moms. There is no way something can steal your vehicle without your keys or access to the front.

7. If I have my older children with me during an outing, we all hold hands. If I have a shopping cart, they know to hold onto the cart the entire time. No one runs off.

While I am teaching my children safety, I am also teaching them grace, kindness, respect and love for all people. Many of you after reading this may feel that I am a drill sergeant, or that my children don’t have much freedom. That’s far from my parenting style.

Unfortunately in this world we live in there are bad people who target women and children. It’s my job as a mother to be informed, and to live an informed life. What does that mean? Well, if you are informed, it’s your job to act like it. While we, as parents, have many duties and responsibilities, our number one priority is to protect our children from harm. Physical, Sexual, Mental, Verbal. All of it.

I am also teaching them a lot about grace. I tell them to give people the benefit of the doubt. I remind them what it’s like to make a bad choice after having a difficult day. These things are different from someone directly trying to harm you. I am teaching them the difference. I am showing them the line between blatant choices to harm, and inadvertently causing hurt feelings or strife.

People can be forgiven for poor choices or actions, but as for my children’s safety – I’ll kick your ass before you harm my babies!

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