Virtually Speaking

Second Life along with the First.

Reality Collides

The last few days have been very trying for me in my First Life.  It hasn’t been as hard for me as it is for the victims of this tragedy, of course, but the ripples of events inevitably spread across a community and impact all of us.  Even those of us, like myself, who are only indirectly connected.

I posted in this thread on Second Citizen in response to a discussion on the kidnapping and murder of Kelsey Smith, the 18 year old girl in Kansas whose body was discovered on Tuesday.  Kelsey was a schoolmate of my daughter’s and, while they weren’t friends they were acquaintances at the same school.  They were the same age, involved in many of the same activities.  They even had similar personalities – sweet, outgoing, smart, goal-oriented. The emotional shock to my daughter is profound.  Her safe little world of boys, summer jobs and going away to college has been upended in the cruelest way imaginable.

I realized that I need some catharsis for all this.  Long late-night talks with my daughter help, but I can’t tell her everything I’m thinking.  I want her to be aware and realistic about the risk of abduction.  I want her to be prepared.  I don’t have to tell her what I think should happen to the suspect they’ve apprehended.  Mostly I want her to feel safe again and understand that if you exercise reasonable diligence and use your head, the risk of this happening to anyone is very small.

The truth is that nobody is ever really safe.  Especially teenage girls.  The statistics are horrifying – according to the FBI, the incidence of missing children has increased 444% since 1982.  And 74% of abducted children are girls.

The sad truth is that there probably was nothing Kelsey could have done to see her own fate coming.  FBI profilers will tell you that, chances are, this perpetrator has intense feelings of inadequacy and anger stemming from a failing marriage, sexual inadequacy, perhaps a failed career or all of the above.  The seeds of his own sociopathy were already there and this was the trigger.   Very often, the killer has unrealistic fantasies about his prey loving and forgiving him, of a sick kind of secret love affair.  When the reality hits him that the girl is terrified and wants nothing to do with him, his reaction can be one of surprise, rage — and murder.

In view of the fact that the actual abduction was so sloppily executed – in broad daylight under surveillance cameras – it was most likely a case of his own frustration reaching the boiling point combined with the availability of a target.  In this case the target was an attractive, friendly young girl.  Maybe she smiled at him in the store because she smiled at strangers all the time.  Maybe he found her clothing seductive (she was wearing dark shorts in the surveillance videos, but nothing provocative).  In his darkest, most perverse fantasies such a cocktail would be difficult to resist. 

We can protect our children but only to a point.  The old adage about information being the most powerful prevention is very apt here — some police departments and schools make safety training classes available where experts tell you how to be vigilant and what situations to avoid.   You can buy your kid a can of mace, but the reality is that if they’re in a situation where they have to use it, they’ve already failed to see the warning signs.

There are no words to describe my contempt for people who kill children.  I admit I want them to be inflicted with horrible suffering and never free to prey on another child again.  But the truth is that there is always another one to take their place.  Our society has a bad habit of producing sociopathic killers regularly, and we have no methods in place for identifying them or preventing them from killing. 

Widespread child abuse is one source of the problem, but so is the trend we see of emotionally detached, unavailable parents.  Children are raising themselves all the time without the love and mentoring that a parent is supposed to provide – most manage to live productive lives anyway but the few who fall victim to the resulting emptiness and psychological scars probably provide the majority of our modern criminals and fill our prisons with lives that can never be ‘normal’ no matter what we do.  Good parenting is the answer to our crime rate, but it is also the hardest thing to achieve.

Here is where I make all sorts of high-minded pronouncements on the evils of modern society and how we’ve betrayed the trust of our children.  But it would do no good.  It won’t bring Kelsey Smith back, or any of the thousands of other children who have died at a predator’s hand.  It won’t change the pace and emotional distance that seems to be hard-wired into modern life. 

The only thing I have control over is my approach to my own children – daily assurances of love, of really and truly listening to them describe their experiences and feelings.  Asking more questions than providing answers.  Truly being there for them when they need answers.  I can do no more than that.  In the end, no matter how much I try to prepare and protect my children against the wolves who walk among us, it is up to the child to remember what to do.  It is up to them to recognize a situation as it is developing and know how to avoid it.  By the time they’re being shoved into a car, chances are it’s already too late.

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June 7, 2007 - Posted by | First Life

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