Jaycee Dugard – What Might Have Helped to Protect Her?

Written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director

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Jaycee Dugard

I have felt both heartsick and inspired by the Diane Sawyer interviews with Jaycee Dugard. These interviews and Jaycee’s brave book tell the hard, courageous story about how Jaycee got assaulted with a stun gun and kidnapped from a country road on her way to catch the school bus at age 11; her 18-year ordeal; the failures of our justice system to protect her; the way in which she was brainwashed until she became unable to seek help; how she held onto her courage, love, and hope in dreadful circumstances; her amazing rescue thanks to two police officers who were paying attention; and her beautiful relationship with her mother, who never, ever stopped longing for and looking for her child.

This is NOT a story for children.

However, as parents and other caring adults, we all want to understand what might help to protect other children from this terrible kind of experience.

First of all, we must never forget that violence and abuse are caused by people who act in destructive ways towards others. Crime is NOT caused by the victims of these crimes. The reality is that not all attacks can be prevented – and that, unfortunately, though the justice system has had great successes, it has also failed to protect children and communities from dangerous people, as in Jaycee Dugard’s story.

It is tragic when children like Jaycee cannot walk to their school bus without risk of being kidnapped. Parents might sometimes lack the knowledge they need and deserve to help protect their kids from harm, and at the same time, it is never the parent’s fault nor the child’s fault if they don’t have this knowledge.

There ARE things we can do to protect our kids most of the time, and Kidpower’s goal is to make this knowledge as widely understood as possible.

What if Jaycee’s mother had been informed about the Illusion of Safety that can lull us into believing that our kids are safe because of where we live and had been given a plan of action for how to prepare her daughter to walk to the school bus on her own?

What if Jaycee had known that a car with someone you don’t know well in it, even if there is a woman, might be dangerous to you so that she could avoid getting close to it – perhaps even immediately start yelling and running for safety either to the closest person or in a direction opposite to where the car was going?

What if, when she was being moved from the car to the house, Jaycee had known that an attacker wants privacy and control and that, even if the attacker had told her to be quiet, to try to make a scene to get the attention of other people?

What if Jaycee had known that it is NOT your fault if you cannot get away right away, to keep looking for a new chance to get away, that this is such a big emergency that you can ask for help from ANY stranger, not to believe what a person who takes you tells you, and that your family will always want you, no matter what happens.

This was an extremely dangerous situation, and we will never know what would have happened – but it is possible that this knowledge might have helped to prevent or shorten her ordeal.

Here is what adults can do to prepare children to stay safe when they start to go out in the world on their own:

  1. Travel the route your child will take. Assess potential hazards from people, cars, and other dangers. Be aware that an attack can take place in seconds, anywhere. Don’t be fooled by the Illusion of Safety into believing that your child will be safe because you live in a small town, out in the country, or in a neighborhood where everyone knows each other. Remember that most of the time children are harmed by people they know and that there are 100,000 attempted abductions by non-family members in the US every year.
  2. Assess your child’s safety readiness. How aware is your child? Does your child know to avoid people she doesn’t know well or who are acting scary who might approach her on foot or by car, including women? Does he pay attention or daydream? Is she confident enough to interrupt a busy adult to ask for help? Is he reliable about checking first with you before changing the plan about where he is going, whom he is with, and what he is doing? Can she change her plan and yell for help and run to safety if she sees a potentially unsafe situation, even if it might be embarrassing? Practice these skills with your child – don’t just discuss them, actually act out the situations and rehearse.
  3. Co-pilot by having your child lead you through the route while you walk or ride behind, asking your child what she or he would do if someone friendly asks her for help, if he gets lost, if someone she knows offers to take her somewhere, if someone acts scary, etc.
  4. Keep conducting trial runs so your child can practice with adult backup until your child stays aware, competent, and confident the whole way.
  5. Make sure your child knows how to move quickly out of reach, pull away from being grabbed, yell for help, and run to safety, and hit and kick to escape if need be. A self-defense class of the kind taught by Kidpower can give children the chance to practice these skills.


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About the Author

Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director
Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, the Kidpower Safety Comics series, the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults, and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.
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