'I left my 12yo son alone at the shops for 2 minutes. In that time, a man tried to grab him.'

There’s never a time in parenting when you can relax, or become complacent. You’re always worried about your kids; their health, their safety.

But I honestly thought I could use the bathroom in a shopping centre without worrying about my 12-year-old.

I was wrong.

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We were on holidays in our hometown and had popped into the shops on our way to visiting friends. It was an indoor shopping centre we’d been in hundreds of times, as it used to be our local.

“I’m heading to the loo,” I told my son. “Meet you at the book store.”

A sentence I’d uttered so many times before.

So, we went our separate ways for probably about 120 seconds. When I came out, my son was standing at the entrance of the women’s bathroom, shaking and crying.

“Someone tried to grab me,” he said.

What a man had done was approach my son, who was leaning against the nearby Zara shop front, checking his phone. As he got closer, he began reaching towards my son’s crotch.

Luckily, the kid had sensed danger, and at the last second, he looked up, turned and fled. The man only made contact with the belt loop of his shorts on his hip.

He was 20 to 30, white, had blonde hair and was wearing a white t-shirt.

My mind could barely register what was happening, and I went into autopilot. As we rushed to the concierge desk, my eyes were flitting everywhere, trying to find the man; so that I could leap on him and put my hands around his throat until he stopped breathing, of course.

I’d never felt an anger like it. How dare this man do this to a child?

Centre security was called, and everyone was amazing. They immediately began searching the CCTV for the predator.

As we waited, Mark, the security guard, told me that they have a thick folder full of ‘persons of interest’ at the centre.

“It’s sad that this happens too often,” he said.

The footage of the incident was quickly found.


It was surreal as I watched as a total stranger approach my son with a clear intent to make contact.

But what my son hadn’t told me was the most disturbing part. As he ran away, he turned back to see if the guy was following him.

He wasn’t, but the man put his finger up to his mouth in a “shhh” signal.

Watching that on the video, I felt like vomiting.

Somehow, in the ensuing conversations for the police report, I kept it together, helped my son give his information, speaking in comforting tones, my arm around him the whole time. That’s what you do as a parent, right?

But on the inside, I was seething.

I’d never felt as angry as that in my whole life. How did parents of victims of actual sexual assaults do it? I will never get those images out of my mind; the outstretched arm aimed low, the ‘shhh’ sign.

His face.

But, I was also thinking, you bet on the wrong kid you revolting pervert.

I’ve taught my son that it’s not impolite to run away from a stranger. That he doesn’t have to engage with anyone, ever. That no one’s in control of his personal space other than him.

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You see, I was raised on tales of child abductions. I’m not kidding. My dad actually once drove us to a known murder site to show my sisters and me where a serial killer took the lives of three women.

It sounds dramatic, and even questionable parenting. But you know what? It worked. It showed us that danger is real. It taught us to be alert.

And that knowledge was invaluable on the three occasions I was followed home by men, later in life.

What it also did was made me comfortable having those safety conversations with my son. He has a realistic idea of the potential of unsafe situations.

So when it mattered the most, his fight or flight instinct kicked in, and he ran. He saved himself.

I was so proud. Relieved and proud, and so, so grateful.

Since then, when we’ve told our friends about what happened, they’ve been shocked, but also thankful for the knowledge.

“My boys think just because they’re older, they don’t have to worry about strangers,” one friend said.

But as we’ve learned, worrying about ‘stranger danger’ is not just for little kids.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. The feature image used is a stock photo.