Child abduction by a stranger usually ends badly. Each year, approximately 58,000 missing children are abducted by non-family members. Typically, strangers who kidnap children commit their crimes with intent to harm their young victims. In nearly half of the non-family child abduction cases, the victim is sexually assaulted.
Every day, these offenders lure unsuspecting children into vehicles and homes. Most of these kids are not prepared for the reality of "stranger danger" and, therefore, tend to trust unknown adults.
Most abducted children are eventually recovered, but the majority of these children return home with visible or emotional scars. A small number of kidnapped children are never located. And, in rare instances, some abducted children are murdered by the stranger who betrayed their trust.
Despite the grim statistics, you have the ability to reduce the likelihood of child abduction. By joining other parents and collectively teaching your kids the importance of stranger danger, you can stop these appalling crimes before they happen.
I Did This!
In order to keep children safe, you should practice basic stranger-safety procedures with your children and encourage other parents to follow your guidelines:
- Tell your children to always walk or play in groups. Predators search for isolated targets such as children who are walking alone or playing alone. Share this important lesson with other parents. If you see a friend or neighbor's young child walking alone, make sure to include that particular neighbor in your stranger-danger strategy. For instance, you could suggest a buddy or carpool plan to get neighboring children to and from school.
- You should always know where your kids are going, even if they leave the house with another trusted adult. If your children spend time at their friends' homes, you should discuss a mutual child-watch plan with other parents. If your children are young, explain to these parents that you do not allow your children to play outside unsupervised. Promise to keep a similar close watch on their children when they play at your house. If your children walk or ride their bikes to other nearby houses, designate safe places for them to run if threatened by a stranger.
- Keep a list of phone numbers of other nearby parents and offer your number to these parents. You can quickly check on the location of your children if needed.
- Teach your kids about strangers. Tell them that a stranger is any adult they do not know. Introduce your children to other parents you trust. Meet the children of these parents, so you will become a familiar face to the kids. Ideally, these children will be able to pick out a few friendly adults in a crowd of strangers.
- In addition to other parents, your kids should know which strangers are safe. Store clerks, police officers, teachers, people who are behind desks in office buildings, mail-carriers, and mothers with children are generally safe strangers. Explain to your children that they can trust these strangers if they ever need help and they cannot locate an adult they recognize. Teach your children that stores, schools, libraries, and restaurants are all safe public places where they can run if they are in jeopardy.
- Practice a secret code word with your children. Choose a word that would not be easy for a stranger to guess. Use this code word when another adult is required to transport your child. Tell your kids they should never get into a car with someone who does not know the code word. Share the code word with your children and other adults you trust. Change the word as often as needed. Instruct other parents to develop their own family code words.
- Teach your kids about the common lures used by abductors. Often, a kidnapper appeals to victims by asking for help in finding a lost animal. Sometimes, the stranger will ask a child for directions. Occasionally, abductors know the child's name or the names of the child's parents. Perpetrators attempt to use this knowledge to gain the child's trust. You should tell your children that adults ask other adults for help when they are truly searching for lost pets or when they need any other type of assistance. Also, repeat to your children the importance of the family code word. If a stranger knows the child's name, but does not mention the code word, that stranger is probably a threat.
- Practice screaming with your children. If a stranger attempts to talk to or grab your children, your children should know to shout, "No!" or "Fire!" Try to recruit the help of other parents. The group of children can rehearse screaming at strangers by role-playing.
For more information on ways to keep your child safe, please see the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Also, please consider aiding law enforcement officials in finding missing children by signing up to receive AMBER Alerts.