It Pays to Be ‘Praning’

By Regina Abuyuan

“What’s worse than someone raping your daughter?” read an award-winning poster for an awareness campaign back in the ‘90s. “Someone raping your son.”

I think either is worst, period. Sexual assault, bullying, seemingly harmless pranks that end up scarring one’s emotional growth forever, illness—the list of motherly fears go on.

Friends and family like to say that I’m braver (let’s say more foolhardy) than most, but it’s the opposite when it comes to my kids. With them, I’m hopelessly praning. I wiped down their toys with alcohol when they were babies, fearing they would contract some deadly disease when they put them in their mouths. I stock up on the Neosporin, fever patches, and make them drink wheatgrass, even if I know their intake of fruits and vegetables is enough (I hope!). I’m that kind of mom.

I also, have of late, begun teaching my teenage daughter more practical ways to stay safe. Some of these were borne out of my own “kapraningan” when I was young—and were validated later on via viral emails and warnings, as everyone grew more aware of how to keep out of danger or compromising circumstances. Here they are:

The two way mirror. Restrooms, dressing rooms, and yes, motel bedrooms have them. Not wanting to go down in history with a Betamax scandal tape to my name, I learned to search for hidden cameras or places where they could be hidden. Any strange protusions, wires, unevenly installed areas of an otherwise flawless surface—those were subject to scrutiny, knocking (if it sounded hollow, it was covered), and rearrangement (lamps and vases, transferred to the floor).

Mirrors were particularly tricky. A trick I learned from a policeman was to put your finger against the surface. If there was no gap between the surface and your finger, it was likely to be a two-way mirror (I can still picture myself doing this in the restroom of Larry’s Bar in Makati). Another trick was to check if the mirror was installed within the wall, and not merely mounted on it. If it was, it was a sign that it was an observation mirror.

Of course, a pervert need only to clear the silver backing of a small area of a mirror to get a view, and there are more ways to tell a one way mirror from not (read here), but so far I’ve been safe. Phew.

Walking on the traffic side of a sidewalk. Never walk on the outer side of a curb—especially if you have long hair, a bag swinging from a long shoulder strap, or loose articles of clothing hanging from your body (a jacket tied around your waist, a cuff with tassels, a necktie). Abductors can easily swing by and drag you into their vehicles, mostly vans. (I almost had this happen to me in the Katipunan area. I quickly stepped back and ran back inside the Ateneo campus grounds.) In the same vein, don’t use your mobile phone, iPod, or gadgets while walking in public places. A motorcycle snatcher can easily breeze by and grab your valuables.

The open drinks. Never accept open drinks when you’re out partying or hitting the clubs. Let’s be real. Your daughter will eventually enter this scene, even if they claim they never will, and forewarned is forearmed. I tell my daughter that, when that time comes, to buy her own drinks, and if she accepts one from anyone, to make sure she sees it being opened in front of her by the bartender. Sedatives or date rape drugs can easily be dropped in already-open drinks. Not good.

Don’t be afraid to scream. Teenagers value their image and poise. But in times of uncertainty and danger, they have to learn to scream—scream their lungs out. Troublemakers don’t like attention, and they’re sure to scurry away if a victim creates a major fuss. Their voice is their best weapon in times of distress. Reassure your children it’s okay to let it rip, and the “embarrassment” far outweighs their safety.

Be wary of men who approach you in malls. During the launch of Called to Rescue, a movement to halt trafficking, Cyndi Romaine informed the audience that a popular modus operandi of traffickers was to approach a group of teenagers in public places, usually malls. They would choose the average-looking girl—not the prettiest, not the homeliest—to them, it was a safer gamble. That particular girl would probably have the self-esteem easier to manipulate and be easier to “sell” to clients. Whether or not the motive is to traffic, warn your children—girls and boys—to stay away from strangers in malls. Our parents warned us about this then and it’s worked…so might as well warn our kids now.