broadsideblog

Why Women Need The Gift Of Fear. Yale Student Dead – Who's Next?

In Crime, women on September 15, 2009 at 10:12 am
A photo of murdered Yale graduate student Annie Le that was released by the FBI

A photo of murdered Yale graduate student Annie Le that was released by the FBI

While suburban parents are freaking out about whether or not to allow their kids to walk to school, the big news story now on this coast, and making national news, is the discovery of the body of Annie Le, a 24-year-old Yale grad student who was to have been married this past weekend — but was instead found dead, her body stuffed inside a wall of the lab. A fellow grad student told The New York Times it  requires three levels of security to get into the basement of the lab building, including two swipes of a security card.

The prime suspect is a lab technician who had an unrequited crush on her, according to the New Haven Independent, someone who had access to the lab but who is not a fellow student. While the standard narrative now unfolds of  a “promising life cut short”, her $160,000 in scholarships and her academic dedication, a young woman’s murder, at Yale or anywhere, raises larger questions for every woman and the women, of all ages, she cares about.

How, where and when — if? — can a woman protect herself from harm? It’s an issue we don’t talk about much, in a serious way, because it’s deeply frightening and can make you feel powerless and overwhelmed. Danger feels random, when for more than 90 percent of women, it’s not. They are usually killed by someone they know, and usually a man with whom they have or have had a relationship. When some men can’t have the woman they want, they claim the ultimate prize instead — her life.

I learned a lot about violence against women, hearing things I wish I hadn’t, and hadn’t known men can do, when I spoke to women around the country for my book on women and guns. One woman was shot point-blank in her own suburban California driveway, her husband shot dead beside her because he only had $8 in his wallet, not enough to satisfy the criminal who followed them home. Today, a trained counselor, she helps other women cope with trauma. Hers was a random attack, but it’s usually a man who decides he owns you — no matter how the woman feels about this — and is going to have you, or else.

Here’s my wish for every woman, of any age. Don’t trust appearances. You need three security cards to get into the basement lab which makes you feel safe and secure. Right? Who’s in there with you? Are you alone? How quickly and easily can you get out? I don’t advocate paranoia; none of us can live like that all the time. But I do advocate thinking and acting like a member of the Secret Service, men and women exquisitely trained to observe their surroundings in detail, to watch faces and body language, to anticipate danger before it happens and figure out how they can, or will, avoid it.

I say this from personal, brutal, terrifying experience. A convicted felon came into my life 10 years ago. I was lonely, broke, struggling, low on confidence. Vulnerable. He had — I would only discover after four months’ dating him and hiring a private detective, a former NYPD cop — served time in Illinois, made the front page of all the Chicago papers for his crimes there, even appeared on American Journal, an early reality TV show.  After I realized what he was and bought the tape of his television appearance and showed it to my Dad, he had one immediate reaction: “He’s so little!” The criminal was; maybe 5’6″, with hands and teeth almost childishly small.  His most powerful weapon? He didn’t look threatening.

He opened my mail, stole a credit card, used it, forging my signature….a total of six felonies by the time he was done with me. The local police and the DA refused to take my case. No one was going to gallop to my rescue. No one. All those years of believing in authority and their right and ability to help me. Gone. I changed my locks and phone numbers and all my bank accounts. I did not date for four months. I did not let a man I did not know very well cross the threshold of my front door for 12 months. I was terrified to answer the phone for months, slept at a friend’s house for a week or two, learned how to drive while looking to see if someone was following me.

This will sound unreal, but the felon gave me a present. It’s a book called The Gift of Fear which contains  an entire page listing male behaviors that, to many women, look social, friendly, even flirtatious or kind. They are also time-tested and highly efficient ways to win a woman’s trust, then commit a crime against her. It’s written by a security expert and I think every woman of every age should read it. It would have saved me an enormous amount of time, money, heartache and terror. It would have, the felon knew, saved me from him.

Maybe it could have saved Annie Le.

  1. Quite interesting. You were broke and then four months later hired a private detective? You certainly must of had some bad vibes.

    By the way, did you notice the word following “DANGER” in your image above?

  2. I was broke but scraped together enough to hire him for just long enough to find out what I was facing. Once I knew what I was up against, I went back to the police, who had dismissed my case and from there to the DA’s office. Without hiring my own help, I had no idea what I was up against; I was too scared to have the police step in, however weird that sounds. It’s hard to convey how frightening a criminal can be, even “only” psychologically.

  3. Circa 1991, I also tried to make a police report about credit card theft done in my name, resulting in over 5k of charged items.

    The 46 precinct in the Bronx refused to let me file a report. The cops were dismissive and unhelpful.

    I’ve often wondered if police make more of an effort nowadays to stop these crimes of identity theft and larceny.

  4. I’m e-mailing this article to my wife and daughter pronto. I’m so sorry that happened to you. What unkindnesses occurred in that man’s life to make him such a bottom feeder? Tom Medlicott

  5. Thought of you and your story–actually, the story of far too many women–when I saw the story in the Times about India organizing women-only commuter trains … http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/16/world/asia/16ladies.html?hp

  6. Caroaber, I am sorry to hear your story is like mine — but it is also helpful to know, and for others to know, how appalling the treatment can be for women who are victims of fraud. The DA told me there was “no damage” done — when I couldn’t work, sleep, answer my phone for weeks from fear. The experience taught me a new, useful and sobering phrase, “prosecutorial discretion.” Contrary to my belief (fantasy) the DA did not have to take my case, even with six provable felonies against me…! I still found that almost unimaginable.

    Then you quickly see which cases they want to bother with and these crimes — unlike rape or something sexier and more TV/press-friendly — are tossed aside.

  7. Tom, this guy’s backstory was really, in a creepy sad way, very disturbing and you could understand, even while being victimized, why he was making those choices.

  8. I might wait a couple of years before reading that book to my daughters. But thanks for the sug.

  9. Definitely not for little girls, but it is a smart and thoughtful book in addressing how women, still, are socialized to “be nice” when being safe can mean being “rude” — not replying to someone who’s “simply” trying to talk to you or running away or even creating a noisy scene if we feel endangered.

    I’d rather be alive and rude…

    • “I’d rather be alive and rude…”

      Amen! You can always apologize later if it turns out you were wrong to be afraid in a situation. If you’re right – you might not be around to regret being nice.

  10. Mark, one of the things that criminals do to women to gain their trust is called “forced teaming” — “Hey, can I help you carry those groceries?” (into the closed vestibule of your apartment building for example, where you are more vulnerable than on a brightly lit street with cars and passers-by.) How could you say not to someone who appears to be simply helpful? It’s hard to know, but knowing that’s a tactic is useful in itself.

  11. Scott, that’s my point exactly. The criminal who ensnared me alternately played on my sympathy or showered me with “affection” and unwanted gifts and help. Very few people would refuse to help someone who appears to be in pain or ungraciously refuse what appears to be kindness. Then you — talk about a mind-f…k — feel like you’re doing something wrong. The manipulation is quite impressive.

    The word is “appears.” It’s a really sad and bitter experience to be viewed as prey, which is exactly how criminals think. It takes time, therapy and fortitude to learn how to trust again, prudently. When I’ve told my story to anyone in law enforcement, they suggest I go a little easier on myself for being fooled. The guy who got me is a professional liar, as good at deceiving as I am, arguably, at my work.

    Women are told “smile, honey!” walking down the street. When a man tries to “help” or “be nice”, and it’s unwanted, it puts women in a difficult spot. The safest can thereby look nasty and get even more verbal (or worse) aggression in reply; women are rewarded for being nice.

    It can feel like a no-win; do and say whatever is necessary to protect yourself or be someone others like/approve of. Until you’ve been a crime victim, which I would not wish on my worst enemy, it’s hard to imagine how ruthless and determined someone is who is bent on doing others harm.

  12. Caitlin, thank you for willingness to share your story so publicly. I can only imagine what a nightmare of an ordeal that must have been, but learning from your experience can only make the rest of us more aware and ultimately more safe. I especially agree with your point about being alert about one’s surroundings — just today my post was about the alarming rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault on Chicago’s public transit system (50% and 13%, respectively) and I know that if more people, especially women, thought like Secret Service agents a great deal of incidents could be avoided.

  13. Leeann, glad you posted about the transit story; women need to speak out often about what crimes and harrasment we face and whatever we can do to fight it.

    I was ashamed of what happened to me for being in some degree complicit, even dating someone so twisted and creepy — and one reason I feel compelled to speak out is that so many other women before me were bilked by this guy in Chicago (email me privately, if curious and you can check these stories there; front page of all the papers about his scams). But none of the women was willing to speak on camera when American Journal did their show; they were too embarrassed — which meant he could just keep going and hurt even more women! He was handsome, smooth, persuasive, extremely intelligent, all qualities that are, in a non-criminal, typically attractive to any woman.

    When you discover your unwillingness to question appearances has so hurt you, you feel the need to tell others. At least I do. What shocked me then as now was how callous, cold and completely unresponsive the cops and DA were. I still can’t quite fathom them knowing a criminal was active in their jurisdiction and basically shrugging it off. That inaction endangered more women right there.

  14. Thanks Caitlin; when I read your excellent post last week I checked out the book and it is now required reading for all my nurses and I plan to give it to my teenage daughter, Kaitlin, to read next. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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