Monday, December 03, 2007

Guest Blogger Kate Flora

Patty here...

I’m out of town today, so my friend Kate Flora has agreed to regale you. She looks forward to your comments, so please give her a hearty Naked welcome. Kate is a former Maine Assistant Attorney General who has published seven crime novels featuring Thea Kozak. The eighth, Stalking Death, will be on bookstore shelves in 2008. In addition to Kate's standalone suspense novel, Steal Away, she also collaborated with Portland, Maine Deputy Chief Joseph Loughlin on a true crime book called Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine, which was nominated for an Edgar award. Kate is a past president of Sisters in Crime, an international organization of crime writers and fans.

Loughlin and Flora at the Edgars

Goodbye. Have a Great Year. Carry Your Cell Phone.

by Kate Flora

My youngest niece has left for college. Kate is bright, beautiful, and enthusiastic about this new adventure. I’ve had a flurry of excited e-mails with pictures of her dorm room. She loves her classes. Her roommates are great. She calls to ask if I can order a book from Amazon and rush it to her when the school bookstore doesn’t have it. She e-mails to say she’s made the cheerleading team.

I’m so happy for her, this strong and agile young woman who wants to help others train to achieve their full athletic potential, and thrilled that she wants to share this with me. Yet my pleasure is tinged with sadness. I wish my sister, the mother who loved her so much, could be the recipient of those messages.

My sister Sara has been gone for ten years. I’m not sure what I believe about the afterlife, but I do know that sometimes I feel her spirit’s restless stirrings. Sara was a ruthless and incisive iconoclast, so usually she’s around to tweak my ego. Right now, though, she’s restless for a very different reason. Sara was hypervigilant about her children’s safety; now her daughter is embarking on an adventure that is full of wonder and promise, and fraught with danger.

Recently, I spent 2.5 years researching and writing a book about a young woman’s murder. Amy St. Laurent was smart and lovely woman who believed in people’s essential goodness. She was also sensible, self-confident, and risk averse. She was forthright about keeping herself safe. She carried mace in her purse. She didn’t hesitate to leave uncomfortable situations or challenge those who made her feel unsafe. Yet one misstep put her in the hands of a charming predator without her cell phone, and within hours, Amy was dead.

We all want our children to believe that the world is a good place. We want them to feel safe, to be able to trust people, and to live their lives without looking over their shoulders. We also want them to be safe. To do that, they have to take responsibility for their own safety.

At every book talk I’ve given for Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts have thanked me for writing the book and asked for advice to keep their loved ones safe. With the help of Lisa Beecher, police chief at the University of Southern Maine and others, my co-writer, Portland Deputy Chief Joseph Loughlin and I developed a list of safety tips for young women to help them avoid being a victim.

The last thing Amy St. Laurent’s mother heard from her daughter was “I love you, Mom,” at the end of a phone call. Tell your daughters, your granddaughters, your nieces or your friends that you love them and want them to stay safe. Please print out these tips and send them to the ones you love. Please call them and insist that they carry their cell phones and keep them charged.

  • Statistics show that most sexual assaults involve alcohol and drugs. Ingestion of even a small amount can alter your perceptions and lower your defenses. Avoid excessive use of these substances.
  • Trust your instincts. If a situation makes you feel uneasy, leave.
  • If you go to a club or party, go with friends. Have an understanding that you will watch out for each other.
  • Never leave your drink unattended. It only takes a few seconds for someone to add a debilitating substance, commonly known as a date rape drug, to your beverage.
  • Never accept a drink from someone you don’t know well. Bartenders and waitpersons are the only strangers you should accept a drink from.
  • Never drink anything that looks or smells strange.
  • Avoid drinking from punch bowls.
  • If you feel very drunk after having only a small amount of alcohol, don’t take any chances. Tell your friend, the bartender, or waitperson that you think you may have been drugged.
  • Women are often conditioned to be "nice," trusting and to spare other people’s feelings. If someone is interested in you and you don’t feel the same way, be straightforward. Don’t make excuses or try to spare their feelings. Just tell them you are not interested.
  • Be cautious about giving out your personal information or that of others. The less information a stranger or casual acquaintance has about you, the better your chances of not becoming a victim.
  • If you think you are being stalked, contact local law enforcement immediately.
  • People are not always honest about themselves. Always keep this in mind.
  • Don’t get into a vehicle with someone you don’t know well, because you become a prisoner if that person has negative intentions.
  • If you suspect that you or someone else has ingested a date rape drug or sedative-like substance, get help immediately. Call 911 or have a friend help you get to a hospital. Tell medical staff what you suspect, so the appropriate tests and samples can be taken for evidence purposes and proper treatment. Date rape drugs do not stay in the body for long and delay may mean the loss of valuable evidence.
  • If you a partying at a private location, remember that video cameras or tape recorders may be set up and operating even if you can’t see them.
  • Don’t hesitate to call the police for help. Don’t feel you would be bothering them, or that your situation is not serious enough. They would much rather prevent a tragedy than respond to one.
  • Keep your cell phone charged and keep it with you.

I just learned that my niece does not have a cell phone. We are going to take care of that today.

Note: for tips about internet safety, go to and follow the links. To send this post to someone you care about, click on the envelope icon below.


  1. Thank you for a wonderful and thought-provoking post, Kate. I've been planning to get cellphones at long last for my daughter and me, and you've given me an added push to do it.

    I'll be forwarding this list to her, and lots of other friends.

  2. Kate,
    Good points which I drill my kids on regularly.


  3. Thank you, Kate. I have three daughters. We talk about this stuff constantly, how being nice might get you killed. We also put all of our daughters in martial arts years ago, not to create a false sense of security but to give them the means to be aggressive without apology.

    But it is always a good reminder, and I'll go over your points with them too.


    Lori G. Armstrong

  4. I think I'm having tech problems - is that a surprise? I posted a comment but it didn't actually post, so I'm going to try again - and with my luck the first comment will appear at the same time as the replacement!

    This is the sort of post that bears repeating and forwarding to girls, boys, women and men. I would, however, go a step further, and suggest that as early as possible, we do all that we can to nurture and support a child's natural, innate intuition. As the saying goes, "children should be seen, heard and believed." Without going into the whole story, when I was nine years old, walking not far from our home with my then five-year-old brother, the proximity of a man I had seen around (he worked nearby) but did not know and whose presence made the hair on my arms literally stand on end, inspired me to grab my brother and run (no mean feat for a kid of nine). I just knew he was after us, but in my naivete was more worried about my brother. The circumstances were threatening and my parents later found out that the man was still on probation following time inside for child rape and molestation.

    And I would also suggest that the cellphone, while a welcome tool in the quest for personal safely, can also give a false sense of security - in the same way that driving an SUV makes you think you'll never have an accident on the freeway (major research a couple of years ago indicated that SUV drivers are on a level of personal auto-pilot, and do not use the skills of defensive driving to avoid accidents, because they have a false sense of safely). Cellphones are great for summoning help, however, those seconds and minutes it takes help to come are just crucial. Kate's list of do's and don't is the first line in defense - especially honoring that little voice inside. Don't banish it or make it have to yell.

  5. Just read this on the BBC News website - timely for Kate's post today: