Friday, September 16, 2011


            Don’t talk to strangers.  It’s one of the first warnings we’re given by our elders when we’re children.  Yet in the world we live in, strangers are often allowed into our lives without so much as a second thought, much of this due to the technological advances we’ve experienced over the past few years.
            A few months ago I received a message from a stranger on Facebook saying “you’re beautiful”. Flattering?  Not exactly. He went on to say that he was married but would love nothing more than to be my “Facebook friend”.  Very creepy.  I asked our “mutual friend” who this bozo was but he had no clue.  My friend admitted that he was very lax about screening who he accepted as a friend, thereby allowing his Facebook “acquaintances” access to his friends.
            Internet dating is another minefield in which one can be lulled into a false sense of security.  Merely joining a “bonafide” site doesn’t guarantee that the person with whom you connect isn’t lying. Granted, usually the lies are disappointing but harmless: people lying about looks, age, marital status. Still, ex-cons (and not so ex ones) have been known to troll these sites as well.
Browsing through some writing samples I’ve written over the years, I came across an article I’d written that was published in the L.A. Times Op Ed section many years ago. It was an essay that commented on the risks a woman takes in striking up relationships with perfect strangers.
This was written in 1993: before the Internet, before Facebook, before Twitter. Before the increase in college coeds “gone missing”. I believe it’s still relevant today, maybe more so since those risks have become even greater with the added complication of technology and the anonymity it provides. I thought it was well worth re-publishing the article:

Nowadays, A Relationship With A Mere Acquaintance Can Be Deadly : In today's society of violence, drugs and crime, men and women alike must practice extra caution before striking up a friendship or getting closer to someone.

October 24, 1993|VIVIAN RHODES | Vivian Rhodes is a free-lance writer who lives in Agoura
Though I am a member of Mystery Writers of America and have written about many fictional murders, certain true murders are extremely painful to read about. Take for example, Kellie O'Sullivan, the Thousand Oaks nurse who was apparently abducted and killed for her car recently, and the San Fernando Valley slaying of Sara Weir, 19, in which a suspect is being sought.
In all likelihood O'Sullivan had no control over her fate, but Weir might have--at least to the extent that she chose to become acquainted with her alleged killer.  I found her story disturbing on many levels. She seemed to be a beautiful young woman on the threshold of life.
Weir met her alleged assailant, Douglas Oliver Kelly, at a health club in Burbank. He apparently impressed her enough to gain her trust because she hired him to be her trainer. No doubt it was this trust and the naiveté of youth that led to her death.
Weir wasn't the only person taken in by Kelly, who is described as a 35-year-old charmer with a quick line. At a health club, where outward appearances are paramount, people don't tend to delve too deeply into someone's past.
As in O'Sullivan's slaying, Weir's death hit close to home. She might have been anyone's daughter, sister, or friend. She might have been me in the late '60s or early '70s, when I took chances that now seem awfully dumb.
But mine was a generation that hitched rides with strangers and crashed at the apartments of people we barely knew, since we were all supposed to be “brothers and sisters in the Age of Aquarius”.
It was only the sordid revelations of the likes of Charlie Manson and Ted Bundy that caused us to face the reality that it is best not to become too well-acquainted with some strangers.
Things have not gotten better in the past 20 years--they've gotten worse. Guns are more accessible; drug-crazed addicts, more desperate. Also, with the breakdown of the family and the weakening influence of religious institutions as a place in which to turn to formulate friendships, people must rely more and more on their own instincts when sizing up a stranger. There is little or no accountability.
What advice would I give a young woman so that she might protect herself from a predator? There are no hard rules, but here are some guidelines to keep in mind.
* Before considering getting into the car or visiting the apartment of a man you've just met, acquaint yourself with his circle of friends. Ideally, you should meet family members, but in our transient society that is often not feasible.
* Do his friends drink a little too much? Are they rough with their girlfriends? Maybe they hint at habits of his of which you were unaware—the use of hard drugs, for example.
* Are there things about him that bother you more than you're willing to admit? An off-color tattoo? His frequent use of obscenities? The bad temper he revealed when he blew up at the waiter or bartender? Small lies you've caught him in?
* Whether the relationship is businesslike, of a romantic nature or simply a friendship, never meet your new acquaintance anywhere but in a public place until you feel absolutely comfortable. Incidentally, this applies to people of either gender. Men can find themselves with women who turn out to be con artists, stalkers, or sociopaths.
* Should the friendship grow, you have a right to find out from others the reason why his ex-wife left him and why his ex-boss fired him as opposed to solely relying upon his version.
* Trust your instincts, but be careful. It's your life you're gambling with.
            As I said…I think this is just as pertinent today as when I first wrote it. Maybe more so. ‘Googling’ a perspective date is a beginning, but keep in mind, not everyone will show up on the radar. Don’t be too concerned with being a little paranoid; in these cases it’s often best to exercise common sense and to err on the side of caution.

Have a great weekend and thank you for joining me on this week’s journey along,

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