an unexpected hitch

If there is one lesson to be gleaned from years of crime reporting it’s just how quickly a seemingly innocuous situation can turn into a total nightmare.

In crime, circumstance is the No.1 co-conspirator – the victim caught in the conjunction between offender and opportunity.

It’s true that nine of 10 times taking that short cut across an ill-lit car park late at night, telling someone you have only just met on the internet your home address or leaving your drink unattended in a crowded bar is unlikely to prove fatal.

But why take the risk? Why put yourself in harm’s way?

There are predators in the world to whom the mere act of walking along the road is an invitation, but whether they act will often depend on the degree to which the potential victim makes themselves vulnerable.

And just as there are dozens of little things we can do to safeguard ourselves, there are big blinking neon signs we can wear that say: “pick me”.

To my mind, standing on the side of the road with your thumb out is one of them.

I met the families of Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke while they still had hope the girls were alive.

Five months later their bodies were found in the Belanglo State Forest – the first of seven young backpackers’ bodies retrieved from the killing field in the NSW southern highlands.

As bogeymen went I thought Ivan Milat had cast a long enough shadow.

But this week when I asked the young hitchhiker now safely seated beside me she shrugged and said: “Who’s Ivan Milat?”

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