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For some background into the layout of where this situation takes place, my apartment complex has it's own dog park. Within a few hundred feet of the dog park is a large and spacious public park, surrounded by tall prairie grass.

Situation

Recently during my nightly visit to the dog park, a young girl (17-19 in appearance) approached me from behind. Our conversation went something like this:

Girl: "Excuse me, miss? Do you live here?"

Me: "Yes?"

Girl: "Can I stay with you for a minute?"

Me: "Yes...? What's up?"

Girl: "Some guy just chased me through the field (the open park area), and I don't know where to go."

Once she was inside the dog park, I tried getting more details out of her to understand what had happened and if she was still in danger. While I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt (as I know I would've been terrified in the moment if I was her), the details of her story never quite became clear.

Here are the details she shared with me:

  • She had been walking from an apartment across the field.
  • The man followed her in a car, and when she began running, he sped up to keep pace with her.
  • She dropped some of her belongings in the field and needed to retrieve them.
  • Her phone was dead, it was becoming dark outside, and she was afraid to walk back for fear he would show up again.

Concerns

My initial thought was to offer to walk her through the field to get her belongings and then back to her apartment with myself and my dog, thinking we would have safety in numbers (her, myself, and my large dog).

However, as she explained more of her story, I became more skeptical. To shed some light for readers, here were my concerns:

  • The dog park has a clear view of the field which she said she had been running through (which I am always facing), yet I didn't see any of this take place.

  • There aren't any roads through the park so I'm very uncertain of how he was chasing her in a car through the field.

  • She approached me from the opposite direction of her apartment and the field.

  • She seemed pretty calm, and she didn't seem out of breath, which I would expect from running so far in colder weather.

  • As I asked her to repeat the story to help clarify, details were inconsistent.

  • My area has had increasing numbers of sex trafficking activity (very elaborate plots that lure people into being kidnapped/attacked).

  • It's become a 'trend' here to have a female claim they need help to lure victims into a trap where they are robbed/attacked by a number of men.

What I tried

I allowed her to use my phone to call someone to come get her. I heard someone answer the phone, but when she explained that she needed a ride because a man had been chasing her, the person on the other end hung up on her.

I offered to call police, but she assured me that there was nothing they could do because she didn't have any description of the man or details of his car beyond the color.

I ended up telling her that I had company coming within 10 minutes and that I couldn't come with her, but that if she wanted to walk home, she should do it while it was still light outside so I would have a clear line of sight on her as she walked through the field. I assured her that I would pay close attention and that she could come back if she saw the car, or that I would get help otherwise.

Question

Is there a better way to approach/handle skepticism of a stranger's pleas for help without risking my own safety or coming off as dismissive of theirs?

I feel that I couldn't have told her I didn't fully believe her because if she was telling the truth, that'd make me out to be a terrible person. However, if she wasn't telling the truth, that exposes that she had malicious intentions and I can't think of a way that ends well.

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    Wow, I think you handled it amazingly well! – anongoodnurse Dec 14 '17 at 17:26
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    As soon as I catch a stranger lying to me, the interpersonal priorities change greatly. – Beanluc Dec 15 '17 at 0:20
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    I agree with other responses, but wanted to mention it is still worthwhile to contact the police and report this suspicious incident. A similar thing happened to my mother-in-law when leaving a college campus shortly after dark, she was approached by a young woman with a strange story, implying she was in distress and needed a ride. The story was inconsistent and something struck my MIL as odd, she refused the ride. She later reported it to police, and some weeks later they contacted her to come look at photos and identify the woman in question, who was suspected of similar robberies. – Cameron Roberts Dec 15 '17 at 2:17
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    The most likely outcome if this was a scam is at least a threat of violence, so I think you should report it to the police even now. You may find out more (they probably won't tell you directly, but they may hint as to what could have happened). You can use that information to recalibrate your intuition. – Spehro Pefhany Dec 15 '17 at 14:07
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    I would absolutely call the police (non-emergency number) as soon as feasible. If her story was a ruse to lure you somewhere and if she dialed a compatriot from your phone, then your phone has the number of her compatriot, which could help the police. It might be a burner phone, but worth the try. – kleineg Dec 15 '17 at 20:51
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The only thing I would add to what you did was I would have called the police regardless.

Assuming the best of intentions on her part, there could have been someone out there targeting young girls, not just her.

Other than that, you did an excellent job.

  • You offered help
  • You offered to call the police
  • You let her use your phone
  • You kept yourself safe.

Again, my only admonition is NEXT time call the police because whether she was telling the truth or not, something criminal was likely going on.

Either she was being targeted by someone (who may have gone off to target someone else) or YOU were being set up to be lured away and robbed.... or worse. Always call the police in such matters, never put yourself at risk.

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    Yes and I think in some jurisdictions inthis circumstance you may be obliged to call police. For example where I live if you witness an accident and do not alert the forces, it is a criminal offence. – Sentinel Dec 14 '17 at 21:14
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    I don't think OP witnessed anything. – trr Dec 14 '17 at 22:54
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    @trr I don't think it was implied they did; it was just given as an example to show that calling the police can sometimes be legally required – Nic Hartley Dec 15 '17 at 22:31
  • As an update, I tried filing a report both online and over the phone with the police but they wouldn't accept a report given from me since I wasn't the 'victim'. Furthermore, if I wanted to file it as though I was the victim, I would've needed more evidence that something criminal was taking place against me. For anyone in the future: Just call the police during the incident. There's no reason why your 'victim' shouldn't want help. – Jess K. Dec 18 '17 at 15:07
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I also think you handled it excellently, but another possibility to remain cautious and helpful is to offer to call help (police, ambulance etc.) yourself:

  • You are offering help. What she described is a threatening situation and, e. g. calling the police and let them decide whether it's worth acting upon or not, is a good idea.
  • You don't endanger yourself as help will be provided by professionally trained people.
  • If they don't want that help, maybe their story really isn't watertight.
  • They can't run away with your phone.

You wrote:

I offered to call police, but she assured me that there was nothing they could do because she didn't have any description of the man or details of his car beyond the color.

She didn't provide good reasons why not to call the police, instead:

  1. They needn't even come, but could give advice over the phone.
  2. If they came, they would at least scare away the man and protect her (and you).
  3. She could safely retrieve her belongings.
  4. If there are men in cars following women, it's certainly useful for the police to know (not just to update statistics, but maybe increase their presence).

It's certainly sensible to inform the police, even now after some time has passed. The police can also give you advice on how to handle such a situation - professional help beyond the scope of IPS.SE - in a way that also doesn't endanger you.

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    I did offer, but when she shot it down I let it go. Do you think I could get away with more assertively insisting that it's best the police are notified in general, even if she isn't interested in talking to them directly? I don't think that'd come off as aggressive if I said I was doing it to help keep the neighborhood safe. – Jess K. Dec 14 '17 at 17:54
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    @JessK. "I offered to call police, but she assured me that there was nothing they could do because she didn't have any description of the man or details of his car beyond the color." She didn't provide good reasons why not to call the police: 1) They needn't even come, but could give advice over the phone, 2) if they came, they would at least scare away the man and protect her, 3) She could safely retrieve her belongings, 4) if there are men in cars following young girls, it's certainly useful for the police to know (not just to update statistics, but maybe increase their presence). – Anne Daunted Dec 14 '17 at 18:01
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    @JessK. I say call even if she says no. 1) if she really was in trouble the police can help better than you or I could. 2) if she is a lure to draw people into a trap the police showing up will at the very least scare any one involved in the trap into leaving the area. – Dan Anderson Dec 14 '17 at 18:03
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    I can't believe I didn't even think of the 3rd option, which was that she could go retrieve her belongings with their supervision. There's no reason for her to not be interested in that piece at the very least. – Jess K. Dec 14 '17 at 18:03
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    I agree that it needn't come off as aggressive, if she is in danger and doesn't fear the police for some reason. The argument about the neighborhood is also good - or the fact that you yourself are also outside and therefore potentially in danger. – Anne Daunted Dec 14 '17 at 18:04
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Something that's possibly worth keeping in mind in this situation is that the person who you were dealing with may not have been a willing accomplice...

Often in situations where human trafficking is involved, or even simple scamming, and robbery, the bait person may be a victim too. They may themselves be a victim of human trafficking, an abused spouse/partner, or someone who owes money to, depends on, or is afraid of someone else and is being manipulated into being apart of whatever was going on.

I've seen people used in similar ways in my old neighborhood. Dealers would use "girlfriends" to hold "product" so that if they got raided the girl would take the possession charges... It wasn't uncommon to see them with pretty bad bruises.

Please for their sake, and the sake of other potential victims, call the police ASAP. It's after the fact now, so don't dial an emergency line, but contact your local authorities and tell them what happened, give them a description of the person who approached you as best you can and tell them what you suspect was going on. You mentioned that there's been a pattern of these in your area, the police need information if they're ever going to catch these people.

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I think that your action was the best choice, you can't know if she was telling the truth or just trying to lure you to a trap. In this cases when the person (victim) tells a strange story and does not seems to be 100% legit by all the points that you notice, the best way to get out of this situations is to tell a lie just like you did... (i have to go, someone is waiting for me, a couple of friends are getting here right know....), so in this way you are protecting yourself and checking if she will be ok.

So in my opinion you did it just right, and it's very important to pay attention to details like you did, or you may get into a trap.

PS: If she was telling the truth, she would not be bothered to wait a few minutes with you and your 'incoming friends'.

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