This dramatic video of an attempted kidnapping in Walmart shows seven-year-old Brittney Baxter fighting to escape from a stranger who had scooped her up in the toy aisle. This little girl’s courage, her fighting spirit, and her instant, powerful reaction to being grabbed by this man might well have saved her life. We are beyond thankful that she is SAFE, and her attacker is in jail.
As we piece together parts of this story from the different interviews and news reports, our goal is to understand what happened. What are the lessons we can learn from Brittany’s experience to help protect other children from being kidnapped?
1. Security awareness in familiar places. Brittany stayed out of school because she was sick and went with her mother to Walmart to pick up some food. She was visiting the toy section while her mother was shopping for food. During the school day, the toy aisle is likely to have been more isolated than at other times they had gone to the store. Being in a familiar store like Walmart can create an illusion of safety. Most of the time, a seven-year-old who has strong personal safety skills and a clear safety plan for getting help can be separated from a parent in a store for a little while.
The problem was that this day was different. The lessons are to notice when there are lots of people close by and when there are not, pay attention if anyone is around who makes you uncomfortable, and make a different safety plan about staying close together when a place is more isolated than usual.
2. “Stranger Safety” before politeness. Brittany mentions that she spoke to the man before he grabbed her, saying that she was going to go get her mother. It is possible that, as soon as she noticed someone she didn’t know well trying to approach her or getting close to her, Brittany might have been able to move away immediately and go back to her mother without saying anything.
Most kids are taught to be polite and answer greetings or questions from adults, but they need to know that the rules are different when they are in an isolated place or away from their adults. In our Kidpower Safety Comics and workshops, we prepare adults to practice Stranger Safety skills with their kids. Children who are eight or younger rehearse how to immediately Move Away and Check First with their adults before they talk to or take something from someone pretending to be a very friendly stranger when they are on their own. Older kids and teens practice how to Think First and, if anything seems off, to move out of reach from someone who is acting kind and helpful and go to where there are more people.
3. One Strong Move. Even though she was picked up by a man who was much bigger than she was, Brittany immediately yelled and kicked instead of freezing. Her knowing what to do and having the courage and presence of mind to do it right away made the difference between a frightening experience and a potential tragedy.
Brittany’s escape from this attempted kidnapping in Walmart is a compelling example of how one strong move can stop most attacks. As we describe in The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults, most attackers want privacy and control so that others will not see what they are doing. An intended victim who resists as quickly as possible and makes a scene has an excellent chance of getting away.
It sounds like Brittany had learned to protect herself if someone tried to grab her from a safety program she had taken – and we are glad she did! It is unclear whether she had actually practiced what to do or had learned by being told.
In our experience, most children are far more likely to be able to use personal safety and self-defense skills in a real-life emergency if they have actually practiced these skills rather than just being shown or told what to do.
Unfortunately, showing children videos like this one or just talking about what happened is likely to make many kids anxious without making them safer. Instead, we recommend adults focus on giving kids successful practice of how to take charge of their safety by Checking and Thinking First, staying Out of Reach, yelling and running to safety, and fighting as a last resort in order to protect yourself.
In our Kidpower workshops working with thousands of students each year since 1989, we have found that young people are emotionally safer and can learn more easily if these skills are introduced and rehearsed in ways that are fun rather than scary, age-appropriate, and relevant to their lives.
DO NOT WAIT TO TEACH KIDS SKILLS! So much misery, trauma, and tragedy can be prevented if every adult knows how to protect their kids from kidnapping, bullying, and abuse — and all children have the skills to protect themselves. Whether you use Kidpower or some other program, make safety for your children your top priority TODAY! Review safety plans and skills often in a matter-of-fact upbeat way, just like you regularly remind kids to wash their hands and look both ways before they cross the street.
For free Kidpower resources about protecting kids from kidnapping and teaching them about Stranger Safety, see:
How to Pick a Good Self-Defense Program