Course shows kids how to avoid and escape predators
By BY ELYSE AMEND
Since the disappearance of nine-year-old Trois Rivieres girl Cedrika Provencher one month ago, child abduction and its prevention have been on the minds of many.
But what can parents do to prepare their children in the event a predator lures them into a dangerous situation?
“It’s fine to talk prevention, but if the child makes a boo-boo, they have to think in terms of ‘what happens if I’m taken away’,” said George Manoli, founder of George Manoli Inc. Along with anti-bullying courses and self-defense classes, Manoli’s company offers the Street Smart Kids course, which teaches children different ways to escape predators and avoid being victims. Participants, who usually are between six and nine years old, learn everything from avoiding a conversation with a would-be predator to escaping from a car or apartment.
“We try to do it as hands on as possible, without traumatizing anyone,” said Manoli, who is also a crime prevention and community police officer at Station 27 in Montreal.
Pointe Claire resident and mother of three Wendy Hunziker has been giving Street Smart Kids courses at West Island schools for over 10 years and said that showing children the types of situations they may encounter and giving them the tools to get themselves out empowers them.
“Parents sometimes take the attitude, oh, I don’t want to scare my kid. But you know, I want my kid scared a little bit, so that they’re more conscious,” Hunziker said. “You give your kids a fire safety plan. Let’s give them a predator safety plan.”
Hunziker teaches kids all about identifying good and bad strangers and situations, how to say ‘no,’ what to do when they’re home alone, how predators will try to lure children, and how to escape if you do get into a situation. She will even get the children to go in the trunk of her car, and show them where the emergency-open lever is, what wires to pull to disable the car’s fuel injection, and how to kick out a taillight.
“In a situation like that, you’ve got to do whatever you can do, right there,” she said.
Child abduction prevention is an issue close to Hunziker’s heart: when her son was six years old, he was lured into a man’s apartment on his way to visit his friend on the next floor. The man had asked her son if he wanted to see his “cat.” Luckily, he starting screaming at the top of his lungs and was able to escape as the man opened the apartment door.
“As a parent, I know how easily these things can happen,” Hunziker said. “We need to teach them. But, let’s not teach them after the barn door is closed and the horse is gone.”
For Manoli, the best way to teach children and give them the right tools is to explain, show, and repeat.
“They have to do the street-smart thing. It’s to empower the child, and to make that inner voice react in him or her and make them step back,” Manoli said. “I say to them, it’s like the [predator] is going fishing. The idea is not to get hooked.”