The recent abduction of a young girl, and the attempted abduction of another, at Altimira Middle School understandably has the community on high alert. We need to remember that this frightening event, that touched the lives of two families and two young girls, impacted us all in a very real and frightening way.
As a parent and a professional who specializes in abduction, I understand the panic and concern the community is feeling. I am writing this in an attempt to provide support and caring for the families as well as our beautiful town.
But please first remember these brave young ladies deserve to heal in privacy. At this point they need their close friends and families to support and stand by them as they heal. We need them to know that an isolated event like this is just that: an isolated event. They are, of course, not responsible for what occurred.
We will all be a little more aware in the days ahead, but as a community we need to remind them and all of us this is indeed a wonderful community to live in. If we respond to events like this from a place of fear we send the wrong message to our children. Sending a message of fear can result in unintended consequences. In fact critical thinking is impacted, contributing to more vulnerability and distress.
Victims of sexual crimes have the right to reveal what, if anything, they choose to share about what they physically endured. I believe that the recent press reporting on the specific charges against the perpetrator went too far in violating their privacy by reporting the specific crimes.
This is an example of the sensitivity we all need to keep in mind as we move forward. We need to remind ourselves that we can deeply affect the experience of our youth, and that we all have a responsibility to think carefully about what we say and do.
We need to focus on the message that our town is indeed a safe place to live for each and every one of us, including those who experienced the crime.
An event such as an abduction by a person unknown to the victim is a rare event.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that, according to a story in Reuters from Jan. 11, 2019, “abductions by strangers are the rarest type of cases of missing children.”
As a community let’s pull together and remind each other how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful place. We can create an even stronger level of safety through knowledge and connection. Talking with our children in a way that communicates not fear, but safety, love and open lines of communication.
Mindfulness of how we manage and cope with this incident sets the tone for supportive communication and community building.
Rebecca Bailey is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Sonoma Valley.