By Marci Narum
You have just put in another extra-long day of work, and it’s already getting dark. But as you lock your office door, you remember: the kids drank all the milk at breakfast, plus, you’re out of eggs, and you need veggies for dinner tonight. So you make a quick stop at the grocery store before heading home for the night.
How about this:
You finish the grocery shopping and hurry back to your car. You have three plastic bags of groceries cutting off the blood supply in one hand; in the other, you’re texting your kids to let them know you will be home in ten minutes to start dinner.
Now—where did you put your car keys? You get to your car and dump everything on the ground so you can dig around in your coat pockets and purse. Found them. And you’re on your way home.
If this is familiar, count yourself lucky. According to safety experts, doing all of this makes you the ideal target for any would-be predator.
But this is North Dakota. The Peace Garden State. People here are “so nice!” We don’t have to worry about that kind of thing happening here. Right?
The point of this article isn’t to make you worry. It’s to raise your personal awareness. Because that is the first step to avoiding a threatening situation.
Don Moseman is the Program Director for the North Dakota Safety Council (NDSC). He says the fastest growing trend in crime—especially in North Dakota—is sexual assaults.
According to the North Dakota Attorney General’s 2014 Crime Report, the most recent statistics available, “Crimes against Persons” increased 6.8 percent with 42,968 offenses reported by local law enforcement, compared to the 40,245 reported in 2013. These include rapes and assaults. Offenders who are convicted are ordered to register as sex offenders. They are required to notify law enforcement of their current address, and any change of address.
The number of registered sex offenders in the state changes daily, as offenders move into and out of North Dakota. But on January 12, 2016, the North Dakota Attorney General’s office reported 1,763 registered sex offenders in the state. 1,356 of them were not incarcerated. The total number also does not include Tribal members, who must register in their own system.
But citing figures from the U.S. Department of Justice, Moseman says only 31percent of rapes are reported to the police, and of those, 18 percent are convicted. Moseman says that means when you check the list of registered sex offenders to see if one is living in your neighborhood, 82 percent of them are not on the list. 69 percent are never caught.
Moseman stresses the importance of having women know these numbers: to be educated and empowered.
“We don’t want them to live in fear with all the disturbing statistics and examples we give them. We want them to live in confidence because they now have the knowledge to protect themselves and be safe.”
In 2011 Moseman began teaching a four-hour course called “Self-Protection and Predator Awareness.” Since then, nearly 1,200 women, men and teenagers in five states have taken the course, with 98.6 percent rating it as “excellent.”
Karen Selensky agrees. Karen, a training coordinator with NDSC, took the course with her daughter, 15-year old Katelyn. Selensky hopes her older daughter will be able to take the course before heading to college next fall.
“I said I’m doing this for awareness for them. They are both in sports and on busses late at night and in parking lots, so there is a lot for them to be aware of. We live in Bismarck and it’s a safe place, but we open the paper and every day something has happened.”
Moseman says the course focuses on safety issues specific to the community and the state.
“Our economy has slowed some, but most of the people who moved here stayed here. They’re just not working right now. Many of them made a lot of money. They can afford to wait until the jobs are back. Unfortunately a large percentage of them are offenders.”
Moseman points out that some women are at higher risk because of their professions, such as women working in the energy industry. He has trained female employees of some companies in the Bakken, and he recommends training and awareness for women in the healthcare and education industries.
“We know there has been a lot more assaults on teachers in the last ten years.”
Mosemen says women in real estate also face higher risk of assault. Sue Jacobson with Century 21-Morrison has been a realtor for 13 years. She admits there have been times she has felt unsafe, but she takes precautions, inviting another agent or her husband to a property showing when it’s late, or the property is out of town. Jacobson says Century 21 Brokers also provide safety training programs, and the Bismarck-Mandan Board of Realtors keeps all agents informed of suspicious individuals known to prey on realtors.
Jacobson also periodically carries a Taser. She knows other agents who have a concealed weapons license, and carry a small firearm for self-protection.
“Most people are good and honorable. We don’t like to look at people with a suspicious view, but there are times you do feel uncomfortable. We put ourselves out there. We take phone calls and agree to meet with perfect strangers, and invite them to get into our vehicles to go look at properties that are, in some cases, vacant. We just have to be smart and protect ourselves.”
Real estate agents earn continuing education credits when they take the Self-Protection and Predator Awareness course. The course combines two hours of classroom teaching with two hours of hands-on physical training designed to help you avoid being a victim. Moseman shares tips such as identifying potential predators, and where abductions are likely to occur.
Selensky says that’s one of the biggest lessons she learned in the course: “They recommend you never park beside a van, no matter what type of van it is, because vans are so often used for abductions. Just little awareness tips that people don’t realize.”
“We talk about the different types of stalkers and predators,” says Moseman. “We spend a lot of time on observation—the ‘what and how.’ Everything from their daily routines, and when to get law enforcement involved. I tell them that if you pay real close attention in the classroom portion, you won’t need the hands on part because it’s all about awareness.”
NDSC Home and Community Coordinator, Peter Pomonis says the course is for anyone 13 and older, and your body size and strength don’t matter.
“In the hands-on part we show them what to do if they find themselves in a situation. They learn moves to escape without harm.
“It’s not overly physical, but we encourage attendees to dress in loose clothing because they will be punching a dummy, and rolling around on the ground. It’s not too intense but we try to make it as realistic as possible. It’s all about improving your personal safety and avoiding these situations if possible.”
Moseman adds, “We don’t call our program ‘self-defense’ we call it ‘self-protection’ because you don’t need to know how to beat someone to a pulp, you just need to know how to get away.”
And one more tip to take away for those nights after work when you’re heading back to your car after picking up groceries: keep your phone in your purse, opt for pushing your groceries out in a shopping cart instead of carrying bags, have your keys in your hand, pay attention to your surroundings, and be prepared for anything out of the ordinary. Your chances of getting home safely to make dinner for the kids will increase significantly.
Self-Protection & Predator Awareness
Course cost: $50 member
$40 group rate (six or more)
Call for a quote for your business