Saturday, February 10, 2007

Stranger Danger: Abducted Children and Grabbers

You are at the local grocery store and you have your 5 year old daughter Jenny with you. You are standing at the deli counter asking about the sliced deli meat with Jenny at your side. As you put your purchase in your cart, you notice your daughter is gone.

In a panic you call out and look for her, but she’s nowhere to be found. Someone tells you that they saw a little girl matching Jenny’s description walk out of the store with her “Daddy” a few minutes ago.

Typically, strangers who kidnap children commit their crimes with intent to harm their young victims. In nearly 80 percent of non-family child abductions cases, the victim is sexually or physically assaulted, and 40 percent are killed.

Every day, these predators lure unsuspecting children into vehicles and homes. Most kids are not prepared for the reality of "stranger danger" and therefore, tend to trust unknown adults.

Most abducted children are eventually recovered. The majority of these children return home with visible or emotional scars. A small number of kidnapped children are never located. And, in rare cases, are murdered by the stranger who betrayed their trust.

There are two areas that you need to address in order to protect your children. Teach your children how to be safe, and keep a child safety kit in case your child is taken or missing.

Roles and Boundaries:

Teach your children what roles are appropriate for the people in their lives. Knowing what is “normal” and what is not, is very important when your child interacts with friends, family, neighbors, and even educators.

Explain what boundaries apply to these people. Your child’s teacher is there to teach, not to take your child to the candy store after school.

Teach your child to be rude. It is unfortunate, but in this day it is necessary for kids not to be too polite. Children are taught to respect their elders, to say please and thank you, and to be polite. Predators use this to their advantage. If they can get within grabbing distance of your child, they will take them. Teach your child to keep a safe distance from strangers.

Make up a SECRET WORD that only you and your child know. Change this word about once a month and tell no one what it is. This is a word that you would give to someone if they needed to pick your child up. By knowing the Secret Word, it proves to your child that you really did authorize this person to take care of your child.

Talk about the lures that predators use to distract kids and get them to trust them.

Common lures used are:

Asking for help- Abductors often ask for help from a child, maybe carrying some packages, help in finding a lost pet, or even just asking a question. Children should be taught that adults ask other adults for help, not children. Children should be cautious of situations in which the adult has arranged to be alone with them.

Posing as an Authority Figure- Posing as a policeman, fireman, or anyone in any type of uniform would be considered an authority figure to children. Teach your child that they have the right to question authority. The predator may tell the child they are arresting them. Handcuffs have even been used with older children. The intent of these ploys is to remove the child from the normal safe area which means "other people."

Promising- Predators may promise to take children to their parents, or say that their parents sent them. Tell your child to use your SECRET WORD. If the stranger does not know the secret word, then they know that Mom and Dad did not send them and it’s not safe to go with them.

Emergency- Claiming that an emergency has happened- “Your Mom was in a bad accident and your Dad sent me to pick you up and take you to them.” Once again, your child should ask the stranger what the SECRET WORD is.

Job Offer- Sometimes an abductor will use the offer of a job to lure children. Babysitting is the most common lure. Tell your kids that if someone approaches them with a job offer, that they can’t go with them in their car or into their home. The purpose of this lure is to get your child away from friends and public places.

Force or Fear- An abductor may try to force your child to go with them by using threats or a weapon. Tell your child that as long as they remain in the public place (mall, parking lot, store) they are safe. They are not to go with the abductor. Once the abductor has them alone they can control them and the situation. Tell your child to yell for help and say “This is not my Father/Mother”.

Giving Gifts- Candy is most often used, but with older kids beer or drugs may also be used as a lure. Question all gifts that your child brings home, even if they are from another family member. This may be a sign of grooming. Please read our grooming articles here.

Photographer- Often a predator will approach a child and tell them that they are a photographer or agent. They may even give them a business card. They want to lure the child away by offering praise and compliments- “you’re beautiful, you should be in magazines or on television.”

Teach your children their full name and yours, phone number with area code, and address with zip code. They should know how to make local and long distance calls; use a pay phone; call home and law enforcement departments; and dial "0" for the operator or 911 in an emergency.

Mentally note the clothes your children wear EVERYDAY! Avoid putting names visibly on clothing or belongings.

Make a child safety kit that includes your child’s fingerprints, recent photograph, hair sample for DNA, and your child’s personal information. You can go here to get a free child safety kit from the Polly Klaas Foundation.

Please see our article on What To Do If Your Child is Missing.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

What To Do If Your Child is Missing

Call 911

There is no 24 waiting period for reporting missing children (under age 18). **

Don’t wait. The first few hours are crucial in finding your child.

When you talk to the police, write down the officer’s name, badge number, and phone number. Make sure that a police report is being filed, write down the report number, and ask who will be following up on this. Write that officers name and phone number down.

Ask the police to get the cell phone records of your child’s cell phone, including the content of the text messages.

Call the FBI and give them the information on your child and the name and phone number of the police officer in charge of the case.

Call your child’s friends, neighbors, work (if applicable), and school. Tell them your child is missing and ask them if they have any information. Give them your phone number and the number of the police officer assigned to the case, and ask them to contact you if they hear anything about your child.

Ask if your child’s friends are missing because they may be together, or their friends may know where they are.

Keep someone at your home to answer the phone 24/7 in case your child calls or someone calls with information. Ask friends and family to help you. Record all incoming phone conversations.

Get a recent photo of your child and make several copies for the police.

Close the door to your child’s room and do not touch anything in there. Even a trash can or computer can have clues. Don’t wash any of your child’s clothes. Don’t clean anything that might have your child’s fingerprints, scent, or DNA on it.

Call the hospitals, clinics, runaway shelters, drug treatment centers, and counseling services/centers in your area and surrounding areas.

Make flyers on your computer with your child’s picture, description and contact information. Get friends and family to help post the flyers at malls, schools, shopping areas, and other places kids hang out.
The police will need your help. Remember, the first few hours are the most crucial in finding your child.

Be ready to give the police your child’s habits and daily routine, including the route your child takes to and from school.

The police may ask for things that have your child’s DNA and/or scent on them -things like hairbrushes, toothbrushes, bedding, and well worn clothes.

Make a list of every new person, unusual circumstances or people your child has encountered in the last year. Have there been any home repairs or construction in your neighborhood in the last year? What about homes for sale? Was there someone who paid extra attention to your child?

Remember, nice people abduct children too…

I remember sitting around our kitchen table on the first night our son was taken when the investigators asked me, “Is there anybody who liked Jacob too much? Who gave him special attention or presents? Who wanted to take him places?” I never dreamed that a nice person could have taken our son or that the most common lure is attention and affection.
—Patty Wetterling

** According to Federal law, the police are obligated to take the missing persons report and enter the information into the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) without a waiting period. If you encounter problems reporting your child as missing, please share these laws with your police department:

The National Child Search Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 5779 (1990) prohibits all law enforcement agencies in the country from establishing waiting periods before accepting a missing child report without regard to the child’s custodial status, and requires immediate entry of each report into the state law enforcement system and the NCIC.

The Missing Children Act, 28 U.S.C. 534 (1982) authorizes the entry of descriptions of missing children into the National Crime Information Center computer and directs the FBI to make theses entries if local law enforcement fails to do so.

How to Keep Your Kids From Accessing Your Information

Here’s a simple way to protect your kids and keep them from accessing any information you have on your computer.

You can create a second 'user name' for your child.

You must do two things for this to work. You must pass code your user account, and you must NOT make your child's user account an "administrator".

This way your child cannot sign in under your user name unless he/she types your password.

Now he/she will not have access to your web browsing history, but your child can still access any documents you have saved on the computer. In order to prevent that from happening, you need to go into "My Computer", then right click on the folder for "your documents". Then go down to "Sharing and Security". Click the "Make this folder private" box.

Now your child will have to sign in under your "user name" to access any documents you have saved. Since you have now pass coded your user name, he/she will not be able to do this.