to Keep Your Child Safe from Abduction
by Kathleen M. Heins
For more articles like this
your children about "stranger danger" isn't enough anymore. Find
out how to update the advice you give your kids to keep them
Getting Up to Date
Generations of parents have told their children "Don't talk to
strangers" and considered the job done. It's a dangerous and
outdated assumption. "Parents need to do more. And they can,"
says Kenneth Wooden, founder and president of Child Lures
Prevention, a sexual abuse and abduction prevention program
based in Shelburne, Vermont. Keeping your eyes open, staying
vigilant, and trusting your instincts about people are the
first, best lines of defense against predators, who may be
closer than most people think.
The stranger who grabs a child and takes off with her in his car
may rivet parents to the national news, but it's not the norm.
Most children are victimized by someone they know. And most of
the time, those unfortunate children are targeted by sexual
predators who are intent on physical and emotional abuse.
Who are the predators? Just take a look around. "They put
themselves in places where they know they're going to have
proximity to kids," says John J. Sullivan Jr., founder and
former chief of the Child Pornography Enforcement Program, U.S.
Customs Service, Washington, D.C. Besides the fact that the
majority are males, child sexual predators don't fit a
particular mold. Representing all races, backgrounds, and
religions, they're impossible to classify, says Wooden. "They
represent a cross section of the American population landscape:
rich and poor, PhDs to illiterates, professionals to laborers,
the unemployed to corporate executives," he says. Wooden should
know. He interviewed more than 1,000 convicted predators in his
efforts to educate parents and children about the tricks of
According to information gathered by the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, many
molesters are married with children and working, so they manage
to stay just below the radar, appearing acceptable to society at
large. Often they're considered pillars of society. Typically
they feel no remorse for their actions and are masters in the
manipulation of children.
Predators attack in everyday settings. "It happens in dentist
and doctor offices, at diving meets, and at daycare centers,"
states Leigh Baker, founder of the Trauma Treatment Center of
Colorado and author of Protecting Your Child from Sexual
Predators (St. Martin's Press, 2002). Most victims are convinced
without force or a weapon to get in the predator's car or enter
a home or other building.
The Most Lethal Lures
Most abductions involve deception through well-known lures
that still work. The most brutal acts against children began
with free candy, the offer of a modeling contract, or a picture
of a fluffy little kitten. Wooden has determined the following
to be the most lethal:
Lost Pet: "It's important that we look our children in the eyes
and say: 'There is no lost pet,'" emphasizes Wooden. And if
there were, why would a grown-up be asking a child for help?
It's simply not normal.
recommends: "Tell them that if an adult asks you to look for a
lost pet, you are in danger; get out of there!"
Assistance: Tell children that adults do not ask children for
help; they ask other adults. If the adult approaches in the car,
says Wooden, tell your kids to run in the opposite direction. If
someone knocks on the door, tell your child not to open it under
any circumstances. In a recent study, children opened the door
time and time again to "a neighbor" needing help. Some even said
"I'm not supposed to open the door" while doing so.
Authority: Make sure kids understand that they should never go
anywhere with anyone without their parent's verbal permission --
regardless of whether the stranger wears a uniform or shows a
badge or ID. "We tell kids that if someone wants to take you to
an office, they need to call a parent right away," says Baker.
"That child is a minor and has a right to have a responsible
adult present." This applies to all situations, including
school, the local video arcade, or the mall. Cells phones and
walkie-talkies, she states, are a great safety investment.
Going with Your Gut
"The only way to know if someone is a sex offender is if
they have a record -- or if a mom has good instincts," says
Wooden. If you have "a bad feeling" about your child's church
youth leader or day camp counselor, don't ignore it. Keep your
child away. Likewise, if your child says he's
uncomfortable being around someone, probe a little deeper.
Intuition is not psychic nonsense. It's a survival instinct that
has allowed humankind to avoid predators of the four-legged and
two-legged variety for millennia. Tell your kids to trust it.
Remind them that even if they turn out to be wrong, it's better
to be embarrassed than a victim.
Preventing the Predators
"No child has the wisdom or strength to take on a sexual
predator," emphasizes Wooden. Here are some tips recommended by
the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for
keeping kids out of danger.
Talk openly and often. "Hundreds of pedophiles have told me,
'Show me a kid who knows nothing about sex and I will show you
my next victim,'" says Wooden. Make sure your children know
what's appropriate for their age level. For young children, it's
enough to know that their private parts are off-limits and if
anyone touches them or tries to touch them in places that make
them feel ashamed or uncomfortable, they can tell Mom or Dad.
Play out scenarios, such as what to do if a stranger pulls up in
a car, to reinforce lessons.
Create a family phone book. Designate a page for each child that
includes home and cell phone numbers of friends' families. In
the event your child is missing, you'll have an immediate
network of people to call, not only to check to see whether your
child is there, but also to start spreading the word in case the
worst has happened.
Educate your child about the law. Kids should know that no one
has the right to touch their private parts or to ask them to
touch theirs, because it's against the law, says Wooden.
Threatening a child is also illegal. Kids need to be told that
adults who do this will be punished.
Look for a mother with kids. Instead of telling children to
beware of all strangers, parents should be helping kids to
understand that some strangers can be helpful. If a child is
lost, being threatened, or in need of help, advise him to go to
the nearest mother with children. Statistically, this person
will be the most likely to help, not hurt your child. A store
clerk behind a counter is also a good choice. They're in a
public place and can summon the police if necessary.
Check out everyone. Parents need to know and demand background
checks from everyone who comes in contact with their child, say
the experts, including the husband and older son of your daycare
provider. A legitimate provider should allow a parent complete
access to her child at the daycare, including unannounced
visits. Ask your local police department for online listings of
child predators in your area.
Be careful about sleepovers. "A lot of abuse occurs at
sleepovers, and I don't advocate them until the child is at
least 10 because you just can't control these situations," says
Baker. Be sure to meet both parents of all your children's
friends. You won't be able to tell whether they're predators,
but they will be less likely to prey on your child if they know
you and your child have a close relationship.
Be vigilant. Baker advises parents not to permit children in
their primary years to walk to school or a friend's house or
play out front unattended. "They just are not going to be able
to protect themselves," she says.
How Individuals Can Help
While most people are good, parents can't take a chance when
it comes to a child's safety. Sullivan encourages those in
positions of authority to set standards. If you're hiring for a
position involving children, run a credit check in addition to
the criminal background check.
"Don't be afraid to make sure a situation is okay rather than
watch a child be abducted," says Wooden. Although children
should be taught to yell out: "This is not my mommy, this is not
my daddy," or "I don't know this person," not every child will.
If you see a car hanging around the street, park, or school
yard, call the police, says Wooden. Half of all nonforcible
enticements occur outdoors in such places.
Wooden says that when talking to children he equates the
evil in the world to the weather. "We tell children that for the
most part the weather is safe but there are times when it's
dangerous." People, he tells children, are like the weather.
"Most are safe and caring, but we do have some human tornadoes
and some are like sneaky thunderstorms that you don't even see
Bottom line: The better informed your children are, the more
likely they'll be able to play out their childhoods with
innocence and joyfulness intact, under the sunniest of skies.
One in five children has received unwanted sexual
solicitations from someone online. Such people are pros at
finding out where your child lives without asking directly. John
Sullivan Jr., PhD, an international expert and educator on child
exploitation issues, says some simple steps can help keep your
child safe online.
Keep the computer in full view; not in your child's bedroom.
Check your phone log and bill for unfamiliar numbers.
Question gifts or money your child has received that you can't
Limit your child's time online and consider installing security
software that will allow you to monitor her activity online.
Know what other computers your child may be using -- at school
or a friend's house. Just because you don't have a computer
doesn't mean your child doesn't have online access.
For more information:
Originally published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine,
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