Thursday, November 27, 2014

Learning from the Abduction of Carlesha Freeland-Gaither

On Nov. 2, 2014, a 22 year-old woman named Carlesha Freeland-Gaither was kidnapped as she walked home from a family function in Philadelphia a little before 10PM. Her abductor approached her after she’d crossed the street and appeared to ask her a question before accosting her and dragging her to his car as she kicked, screamed and tried to get away. In the struggle, she lost her glasses and her cellphone, which were found on the sidewalk near the shattered glass left behind from the passenger window she managed to kick out before her abductor drove away.

Here’s the footage from building surveillance cameras that were rolling during the attack: 
Carlesha was found alive in Maryland a few days later, but we all know this situation could have been a whole lot worse.

While I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to blame the victim of a crime - because a woman SHOULD be able to walk down the street without being accosted – I do think it’s important to examine what could have gone differently.

First, the attacker drives along the same street Carlesha walked down(before turning off), indicating that he may have seen her before he parked. He gets out of his car and walks to the corner he knows she will soon cross. At about the 1:30 minute mark, she passes him and keeps it moving, but, after a brief pause, he follows her and appears to say something to get her to stop and turn around. Suddenly, he gets very close to her and, at the 1:51 mark, he grabs her and drags her down the block toward his parked car. The trip to the car took about 15 seconds – probably the most terrifying seconds of Carlesha’s life.

Through the remainder of the video, you see her fighting back and trying to get away – until about the 2:15 mark when it looks as if he picks her up and puts her into his car. But it doesn’t even end there, as an eyewitness says she kicked out both back windows in an effort to escape before he drove away.

Once she was grabbed, she did everything right, including making noise and fighting – hard – to free herself.
But it seemed as if the trouble started before she was grabbed.

Awareness dictates that familiarity with what is going on around you is of the utmost importance. Once he stopped her with whatever it was he said, he got way too close way too fast. He did come up from behind, but he was close enough to reach out and touch (which he did) by the time she really had a chance to react. 
And most attacks happen just that quickly.

Again, I’m not saying it was her fault at all, but anyone you don’t know who gets within an arm’s distance away is probably too close. Keeping that distance between you and a person you don’t know – especially when you are alone at night – is always a good idea. If they move close, you move away. Keep your outstretched hands in front of you when it feels like a threat may be eminent. A bit of verbal de-escalation, in the form of saying “Look, I don’t want any trouble. Stay away from me” can be used, too.

But the speed with which she was accosted would make a reaction to stop it tough, because the shock of being attacked usually takes more than a few seconds to recover from.

Still, it’s important to do something – like Carlesha did - rather than doing nothing. Her reaction (immediate screaming) and the struggle it caused, made folks notice something wasn’t quite right with the situation.

But a word about the other bystanders (including the person in the car who watches for a few seconds before backing up): it stands to reason that if you see someone being dragged to a car while screaming “Help me!” that you should call 911 immediately. And if you are in a car at the top of a one-way street, perhaps you could even do something other than watch the drama unfold while waiting on the police to arrive. At the very least, get a license plate number.

Again – because an attacker watching you usually has an advantage, be that the element of surprise, a weapon or the fact that he/she may be a whole lot bigger and stronger - waiting until they attack may be too late. Being aware of what is going on nearby – that guy you pass on the corner, the dark shadow in the doorway, the van parked next to your car – might just save you from being attacked in the first place.

So let’s say you see someone who makes you feel uncomfortable as you approach. Cross to the other side of the street. If he/she crosses too, cross back. If they do the same, turn and walk in the direction you came from. It may feel ridiculous, but I say better paranoid and alive than too trusting and abducted.

The reality is that not everyone survives being taken to another location – and I’m very glad that Carlesha did.


  1. As a husband and father of young women, I know that there are plenty of things women "should" be able to do, but the reality of the world we live in is that they shouldn't.

  2. And therein lies the problem. We are doing something wrong as a society if this is that common a reality.