In one of my previous posts, “Three Things All Kids Should Know,” I discussed the importance of children knowing their parents’ names, telephone number and address as well as knowing what to do in case of separation from a parent in a public place. This week, I’d like to cover a subject that is equally important for your children’s safety: what to do if someone forcefully tries to abduct them.
Nearly 60 percent of abductions are classified as “crimes of opportunity,” which simply means they are committed without planning. When the perpetrator sees he or she has a chance to commit the act at that moment, they decide to seize the opportunity. A child who appears lost or unattended for just a few seconds can quickly become the victim of a kidnapping. In fact, according to Detective Mark Gado’s article on Crime Library, the method of abduction in 65 percent of these types of incidents was a sighting, a sudden assault and a quick abduction.*
In law enforcement, there is a concept known as the 21 foot rule. Basically, it states that an average healthy, adult male can cover 21 feet (7 yards) in about one and one and one-half seconds. It is frightening to consider how quickly a predator could identify an unattended child, run to him, grab him, and disappear into a vehicle – literally in a matter of seconds.
Many parents assume that teaching their children to simply yell, “Help!” or carry on and resist their abductor is sufficient. Unfortunately, this type of strategy can immediately backfire. Here’s why: it is very difficult for the average person to determine whether a screaming child is in the middle of a temper tantrum or in real danger. It’s a bit like a car alarm. Be honest, when you hear a car alarm, is your first instinct to investigate why the alarm is going off, or assume it is a false alarm and become annoyed by the unpleasant sound? The reason for this is conditioning – you have heard a car alarm hundreds of times and probably never seen it tripped as the result of a vehicle theft. Think about how many times you have seen a child carrying on or throwing a tantrum? It’s the same principle at work.
The key is to teach your children to yell things, which will empower them and draw attention to the situation. Here are three phases that will draw immediate attention and provide a good chance for any bystanders to respond appropriately.
1.) “FIRE!” This is a good choice because it immediately draws attention to the situation. Most children do not yell, “Fire!” during a temper tantrum. Additionally, studies have shown that the average person is more inclined to call the fire department to report a fire rather than the police for a cry for help.
2.) “THIS IS NOT MY MOM!” or “THIS IS NOT MY DAD!” A distressed child that is resisting being carried away while yelling, “This is not my dad!” at the top of their lungs will definitely attract attention from bystanders. Even in the rare case that witnesses do not wish to get involved, this type of scene will often prompt a call to the police for further investigation.
3.) “CALL 9-1-1!” Once again, a child struggling and yelling for witnesses to dial 9-1-1 has a much better chance of getting a response than simply carrying on or yelling for help.
Additionally, a child who forcefully resists (punching, kicking, struggling, etc.) while yelling these empowering phrases has a much better chance of being released by the abductor.
While it is impossible to adequately prepare for all possible scenarios, prevention is still the best course of action. All of our family safety tips: "having a family password," "exercising play date safety," "awareness & distance training" and "the three things all children should know" all tie in to form a family safety plan that is based upon prevention through education.
Occasionally, I’ll come across a family who believes that because they reside in a “nice” neighborhood with a low crime rate, they don’t need to be proactive when it comes to educating their children (or themselves) about sound family safety practices. Sometimes a family might express concern that such subjects are scary or uncomfortable to talk about. I think we would all agree that an elementary school catching fire and burning to the ground is a rare occurrence, and scary to think about. However, this does not stop us from having emergency exits and fire drills in case the worst should happen.
The fact is in any potentially dangerous situation, your loved ones are going to fall into one of two categories: They will either have absolutely no idea of what to do in order to protect themselves or they will have some idea of what to do. Which situation would you rather have?