If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I try to maintain a positive and uplifting vibe in all of my posts. Negativity isn’t something any of us need more of. I want this to be a safe place where you can come for advice and positive ideas to live better and refocus on the important things in life. This is not a place for conflict, complaints, or despair. Life, however, is not always sunshine and roses, and to live better, we must deal with unpleasant situations, like the reality of women’s safety in our society.
A family’s worst nightmare
Last week, a family friend tragically lost their teenage daughter.
Olivia was a 17-year-old girl about to embark on her senior year of high school in Kenosha (my hometown). On Sunday evening, she was out alone. She stopped for gas at a well-known gas station on a main road.
Little more than 12 hours later, in a town about 30 minutes away (very near my current city), a couple walking the path in the large field on their property encountered what they initially believed to be a mannequin, according to early reports. What they had found, however, was the body of a woman.
Around that same time, Olivia’s father filed a missing person report with the Kenosha Police Department. Olivia hadn’t shown up for work that day. Posts searching for her filled Facebook as friends, family, and complete strangers tried to help the family find her.
Meanwhile, police were investigating and began making connections across counties. And a little more than 24 hours after she was found, the body was identified as that of Olivia Mackay.
After notifying family and releasing identity to the public, mystery still swirled around the situation. The cause of death was not determined until after a second autopsy was performed and it was not until then that the “suspicious death” was officially determined to be a homicide.
Olivia’s personal belongings were not found on her at the scene and have not yet been found at the time of this writing (that we are aware-police are releasing no new information that may hinder the investigation). Her car was found in Kenosha, parked in an area not terribly far from the gas station she had last been seen at. The cause of death has not been released to better aid the investigation.
Part of a larger problem?
While no one yet knows the circumstances surrounding Olivia’s death, it comes at a time when the community in which she lived is experiencing a surge in women’s safety issues. Several reports of abductions or attempted abductions from Kenosha to Milwaukee have surfaced over this summer. The most prominent one in Kenosha is the repeated report of men in a white van following women.
The KPD has gone so far as to release a statement just recently regarding several instances in which women were approached, followed, or harassed. They are urging women to be vigilant in being aware of their surroundings and cautious at all times, especially when they are alone. They have also warned women to stay away from isolated areas.
Is Olivia’s case part of this problem? I don’t know. Only Olivia and her murderer/s know what happened between the time the owner of the gas station saw her drive away and the couple walking found her in their field.
What I do know is that this could have been any one of us. On Monday, it was Olivia. Tomorrow, it could be you, me, one of our loved ones, or one of our neighbors. We are never as safe as we feel.
When tragedy strikes close to home
Olivia’s case, while more mysterious than most, is not unique. We hear stories like this every day. I mean, I heard about the body found the day it happened and I don’t watch or read the news. It’s so common, that it’s really easy to ignore. We become complacent. We assume it will never happen to us.
This story was different. Not only because of where she lived and where she was found but because I knew her. Not well, but I knew her and her family.
Olivia was the daughter of a close friend of my parents. Her father was in my parent’s wedding. He has been in my life since I was born. I remember vividly playing and talking with him as a young child. In fact, both he and all of his children, including Olivia, were at my own wedding.
When something like this happens to someone you know, it affects you. It rattles you to your core. I’ve always been a rather cautious person anyway, but this brings it to a whole new level.
You realize more clearly than ever that we are never as safe as we think we are. We never know what can happen. Anything can happen to anyone at any time. You and I included.
A spark of hope out of an extinguished light
This situation has affected our entire community. It has created a kind of ripple effect. Not just of fear and heartbreak, but of love as well. For out of darkness, no matter how deep and black, there can be light.
People have been shocked by this event. Things like this are not a regular occurrence around here. We’ve seen the increase in danger this summer, but there were no murders like this. This is difficult territory for everyone to walk. We are all affected to some extent, whether we knew her or not.
The family has seen an outpouring of generosity and love from all who hear her story. In addition to the personal responses they’ve received, it has also brought the safety issues of women to the forefront in the community.
The situation has heightened everyone’s awareness. People have posted on Facebook videos teaching self-defense, encouraging words, advice and safe practices. Local businesses are hosting or considering hosting special classes or events to empower women to defend themselves should the need arise.
It’s opened a door.
It’s sparked conversation. The horrible circumstances have brought the danger to light and made it real. It’s making us more vigilant about something we should have been all along. It’s prompted action.
The horrible circumstances have brought the danger to light and made it real. It’s making us more vigilant about something we should have been all along. It’s prompted action.
Action to unify and strengthen. To put an end to the fear and danger and to save lives. Action like this post.
So what are we supposed to do?
Without Olivia’s passing, this never would have occurred to me to be a topic on this blog. But it’s an important part of the health and safety of us and our family members. Being proactive to protect ourselves and our families is our number one priority.
This event made me more fearful at first. It’s difficult to go out knowing that whoever did this, they’re still out there. Out in our community, shopping at our stores, driving on our streets. It could be anyone.
But fear doesn’t do anyone any good on its own. There is no benefit in simply being afraid. You need to have action for fear to serve its purpose; to protect us.
Whether Olivia’s death is related to the recent abductions, abduction attempts, and sex trafficking is unknown at this time. But it doesn’t matter in terms of safety. Whether an attacker is a complete stranger or someone we know and trust, we need to take care of ourselves. That’s never been more clear to me than it is now.
The best way to ensure our safety is to follow what I’m calling APET. A simple acronym for the four key things we need to do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
We don’t like to think that we need to limit ourselves just because we’re women or children. We don’t like thinking that we are weaker or more susceptible to danger. But the reality is that we sometimes do. If you can, avoidance is the first step towards increasing safety. Avoid isolated areas by yourself, meeting up with strangers alone or in secluded locations, going out late at night alone, and venturing into bad areas known for crime.
Obviously, we can’t always avoid a bad situation. Sometimes forces outside our control dictate that we aren’t able to avoid being somewhere or going out on our own when it would be better not to. We don’t always have a choice. Even if we do, there is no guarantee that we won’t encounter a bad situation somewhere we think we are safe.
In those moments, we need to be prepared. Keep up to date on local happenings so you can be on alert if you need to be. Take a self-defense class, martial arts class, or educate yourself in some way to be able to protect yourself. Be knowledgeable about what you should do in different types of situations.
Download tracking apps like bSafe to connect with family so that if something does go wrong, they are instantly alerted. Some apps, like Personal Safety-Panic Alarm, does the same thing and also has a loud panic alarm that you can activate if you’re in danger.
In addition, there are many simple things that can be done to reduce the likelihood of being targeted or can change your attacker’s mind about choosing you. You’d be amazed at what tips and tricks you can learn from just a little research online, at the library, in community classes, or from videos that could save your life.
We need to look out for ourselves and be alert, that’s a given. There is no guarantee that someone else will be available to help us if we get into a bad spot. However, if you do see something suspicious or questionable happening involving someone else, don’t convince yourself it was nothing. You must engage in the situation.
We need to be on the lookout for each other in our communities. Too often, people are too wrapped up in their own stuff to notice what’s going on around them. Or worse, they ignore what they see because they think “it’s none of my business.”
By engaging, I don’t necessarily mean to get physically involved and risk putting yourself in danger. But you can report it to the police immediately, giving a description of the person and a definitive location. You can also find someone nearby who may be better adept at physically intervening.
Do something. Anything. Making them aware that other people have seen what’s happening is a proven deterrent. If they think cops make be coming, or that people can now identify them clearly, it can stop a criminal from following through with their actions as their instinct will be to get away.
Making them aware that other people have seen what’s happening is a proven deterrent. If they think cops might be coming, or that people can now identify them clearly, it can stop a criminal from following through with their actions as their instinct will be to get away.
Making ourselves prepared and aware, as well as looking out for each other is great. However, we also need to make sure that we pass it on by bringing our knowledge to others.
Start by teaching your children to be aware of their surroundings and what to do if someone approaches them or if they ever feel unsafe. At some point, our children reach an age where they are no longer under our constant watch and they need to be prepared for that day.
If you have deeper knowledge or skills to share, do it! Are you a self-defense or martial arts instructor? Make a point to offer some free community classes or pass out pamphlets at local events to reach people who may otherwise never learn what they need to know. You never know who you might reach and how you could impact your community.
Or you could help organize an event for the public with law enforcement speakers or other experts. Sometimes, people just need the information presented to them to avoid becoming complacent.
Do whatever it is that you can offer to help teach your community to be safe.
Stick together, be strong, survive and thrive
This is not a topic anyone wants to think about. Unfortunately, complacency is how we get into this position and complacent is what we have been for too long. We need the good men and women of the community to unite and fight back to reduce the occurrences of crime. And we need to increase the incarcerations of the bad people in societies by being aware and engaging with our community, not sticking our heads in the sand.
I want to feel safe. I want you to feel safe. Living in fear or in danger is no way to live. So please, be aware, be prepared, avoid what you can, and help one another. Because when we take care of ourselves and one another, we can overcome the darkness that will always exist with the bad and spread the light of the good.
“The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing…When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
How do you ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones? Leave your best tips in the comments below!
-To your Better Life-