This week's newspaper column

The attempted abduction of a teenaged girl in Fertile, MN, my hometown, one week after the disappearance of Dru Sjodin from the parking lot of Columbia Mall in Grand Forks, has people people around here on edge.

The world, even the small-town world, is a dangerous place, and always has been. Recently, I was shown an account in the local paper nearly one hundred years ago of a girl who was etherized and raped by a railroad crew which passed through town.

If such an event happened today, it would be national news for a month. At the time, however, the police didn’t even plan to pursue the perpetrators. They had left town, after all, and would be difficult to track down. Tough beans, little girl.

Now, at least, such offenses are taken seriously. Crimes with a sexual element are no longer swept under the rug. More of them are reported, but the notion that things are much worse now than they were in the good old days doesn’t necessarily hold up.

Should we start locking our doors? Probably. Will we? Probably not. I would describe small-town residents as militantly innocent. We aren’t going to give up our sense of safety without a fight. We want to trust. It is one reason we live out here.

But that trust must be leavened with good sense. It is clear that whackos are likely to target women. The numerous abductions in this corner of the world in the past decade have all involved young females.

Why not routinely train young women in self-defense? A vigorous self-defense program might scare of potential abductors, and would make everybody feel a little better. Self-defense training would give a greater sense of security to a group that has every right to be scared.

Last week, a friend of mine called from Miami, Florida. She was in a tizzy. She had gone on a date the night before. She and her date were flagged down by a woman whose car was stuck in the sand on the beach.

Why the tizzy? Well, her date had wanted to help pull out the car. My friend was afraid the stuck car was a ruse and that they might be robbed and killed. How could her date have been so stupid and naive as to offer help? No husband material there.

Well, I said with a self-righteous tone, up here we would have no problem helping a stuck motorist. That’s what we do. Wouldn’t you want help if you were stuck?

“This is Florida!” my friend replied. True, I thought. I recalled my sense when visiting Florida that there was no trust, no safety, no real protection. If you are stupid enough to help a stranger, they’ll scam you, they’ll rob you, they’ll kill you. The police are too overburdened to do much about it.

This past week, when a big city reporter asked a young woman in town whether she have ever before worried about being abducted, she responded with indignation, “This is Fertile!”

We should fight to preserve the difference between “This is Florida!” and “This is Fertile!” Yes, we should teach our young people how to protect themselves against the inevitable lunatics on the loose and take every logical step to protect ourselves.

At the same time, we should not let an occasional whacko rob us of our small-town way of life. We should trust even as we realize that our trust may not always be honored. We shouldn’t be robbed of our innocence without a fight.