SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake police say a 5-year-old girl escaped an attempted sexual assault over the weekend.
About 6:30 p.m. Saturday, a young girl was playing in her fenced yard near 800 South and 540 East when a man walked by and grabbed her by her hair, said Salt Lake police detective Greg Wilking.
"(The) girl was grabbed in her front yard, and he pulled her toward the fence that separated the two of them. He asked to touch her inappropriately," Wilking said.
The girl either broke free or the man let go and ran off, Wilking said. The man was described as white and thin with "dark spots under his eyes," and was last seen wearing a blue shirt.
Neighbors are keeping a closer watch on their children, now knowing that a fenced yard won't necessarily keep them safe from strangers with ill intent.
"They told us that she said that a man grabbed her by her hair while she was in her yard playing," said neighbor Katie Krongard. "It's definitely startling."
Krongard said the little girl that was attacked had come over to play with her daughter as little as 15 minutes before the incident. Krongard said she never saw the man or heard anything.
She said because of the neighborhood's proximity to Liberty Park, people "walk through our street all the time."
"I think you just watch your kids. And I would never let them play out here by themselves," Krongard said.
Police not only fear another attack, but they are worried about escalation.
Child safety instructor Alyson Larsen from radKIDS — an organization that teaches empowerment — said kids can be armed with techniques to ward off attackers. She said empowerment is the first line of defense.
"First of all, nobody has the right to hurt you," Larsen said. "Only 2 percent of the population can see something and turn it into action — we have to train that in."
The group found before their training almost 1/4 of children did not understand that it was not OK for someone to hurt them, and only a little over 1/3 would call 9-1-1 if somebody was trying to hurt them.
Larsen said the bottom line is that kids have to know they matter.
"Everybody says kick them in the groin or something like that. But until (children) know that they're important, they're not going to do it," Larsen said.
The group emphasizes the importance of families coming up with plans that best fit their children. More information is available at radKIDS.org.
Anyone with information about the attack can call police at 801-799-3000.