This week we received a few comments and emails about protecting children from kidnappers, most likely sparked by the brazen attack in Encinitas, California last week by two men who attempted to force a seventeen year old girl into a van. Regardless of what the media chooses to report, the actual number of cases of child abduction are exceedingly rare. Far more often, child abduction is the result of disputes over custody. Exponentially topping that number is the number of runaway/throwaway children who end up exploited at the hands of human traffickers. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children provides detailed data on all of these occurrences.
Despite what Hollywood, Nancy Grace, and the local media would have us believe, child abduction like that depicted in the movie Taken, or nationally popularized cases like Hannah Anderson, Elizabeth Smart or Jaycee Dugard’s are exceptionally rare. That is probably not comforting to the Solana Beach Family who’s daughter was targeted by child molester Henry Jack Doshay in March, nor the parents of the seventeen-year-old who was targeted by two men in a van in Encinitas last week. The fact is that a little education would go a long way to nearly eliminating this rare occurrence from our society.
The most insightful information on avoiding child kidnapping comes from unsuccessful abduction attempts. 32% occur on the way to or from school. 68% of the intended victims were female, and 40% were between 10 and 14 years old. From that, we can glean that the most popular targets for abductors are 10 – 14-year-old female children walking to or from school. That said, due to the infrequency of this crime, we would foolish to discount the fact that males are abducted and that both younger and older children are also potential targets.
We can also glean some useful information from how these predators operate in that 73%
of attempted abductions involved a vehicle. Only 28% of actual abductions involved a vehicle, meaning the child walked or was carried by the abductor. In parks or wooded areas, we can expect attacks to occur in secluded areas near the point of abduction. On streets and roads, we can expect that a vehicle will be used. Less than 10% of abductions occurred in an area familiar to the child such as their home, school or daycare. Like most attacks, abductions tend to occur en route to these locations. What this tells us is that we should teach our children to avoid being alone near secluded areas of parks and to avoid wooded areas. Their chances of escape are simply much high if the attempt occurs on a street or roadway.
Only 7% of single abductor perpetrators were female. A male was involved in almost every case of multiple abductor cases, and females are involved in less than 25% of the multiple abductor attacks. In short, males are the predominant players in stranger abductions. Teaching your child to run to the nearest adult female is statistically more likely to provide them with protection, assuming a police officer is not around. While many people and organizations teach children to look for uniformed police or firemen if they are attacked or feel uncomfortable, I cannot find a single case of child abduction that occurred in the presence of uniformed civil servants. The chances are, they will not be present when or if your child needs assistances. The nearest adult female is statically the best choice.
Fortunately we do have extensive data on the means in which contact with the potential victim was initiated. Unfortunately, the statistics also provide us with the reason the media is so easily able to make us fear this crime. Child abduction tends to occur very close to home or the last known location of the child (80% within ¼ mile of the initial contact). The survival rate for successful abductions is only 60%. Half of all victims are sexually abused, and 4% are never recovered. 57% are targets of opportunity, and only 14% are selected due to a particular physical characteristic. Of those murdered, 74% are dead within three hours of the abduction.
Regardless of the infrequency of the crime, there is nothing that a parent fears more then the death or serious injury of their child. Fortunately, we can take measures to significantly reduce the risk that they will be successfully targeted. Taking what we know of child predators, where these crimes occur and how they initiate contact, we can look at the attack cycle and identify the key points in the cycle where potential predators are at risk, identified and subsequently deterred.
In Steve Tarani’s book Preventative Defense, he breaks the attack cycle down into five phases, which can be applied to any attack. (If you haven’t read the book, that is probably the best thing you can do to inoculate yourself and your family from all sorts of negative occurrences.). When applying it to kidnapping the first phase is to look for suitable potential victims. In this case, from a practical perspective, abductors are looking for school age children. All of us can intuitively profile where to find school age children. Schools, parks and recreation facilities, and for older teens, malls, and the beach. In short, we can expect abductors to be present in these locations looking to identify targets of opportunity.
We know that most abductions are driven by opportunity and once again as we move farther along the attack cycle to the point they are choosing their specific victim, we can make some predictions about what constitutes opportunity. The primary driver of opportunity in abduction crimes is isolation. Abductors are taking a huge risk to commit this crime, and they do not want to be seen and or identified by anyone. Children playing in small groups do not make attractive targets.
Taking just these first two phases of the cycle into account, we can take some very simple actions to reduce not just the risk of your children, but of all children from this threat. We expect to see parents, coaches and teachers in areas where children are present. We do not expect to males with no apparent reason to be present in these environments. Making a habit of friendly conversation with anyone, male or female, that you see in these areas is a simple, innocuous tactic that provides a more than sufficient deterrent to a potential attacker.
If you see someone sitting in a car, asking if they need assistance, a battery jump or help in any way will demonstrate to a potential predator that you saw them, and can probably recognize them. At worst you do someone a legitimate favor, and at best you prevent an attack. Asking an individual on the fringes of locations where children congregate which one is theirs, may provide a convenient opening line to start the conversation that deters a predator, or may result in passing the time and introducing yourself to someone you didn’t know.
We cannot provide examples for every possible situation, but if every adult with a legitimate purpose in the vicinity of children made a habit of introducing themselves to one new person in their child’s vicinity a day, we would force predators to take greater risks, and employ their tactics from far less advantageous positions. There is simply no downside to incorporating this habit into your everyday lives.
As we move further along the attack cycle to the stalking phase, this is where an abductor is developing a tactical plan to take physical control of the child. At this point, the intent of the abductor is to gain access to the child without being seen or identified. Fortunately, we have a large set of data from failed abductions that provides us with insight into what this tactical plan will entail.
The predator will most likely plan to offer a child something they believe the child will want, in order to entice the child to go to a location where they can exert physical control. The next phase of the attack cycle is the close phase where he or she will place himself or herself in a position to take custody of the intended victim. Up to this point, a predator has yet to commit a crime. Any likelihood of identification is very significant deterrent as at this point, he can simply walk away and even if detained by police, he will walk out of the station unscathed. It is unlikely that a potential abductor will approach a child who is in under the care of an adult, so we have to assume that an adult will not be present during these phases. This now shifts the responsibility for deterrence to our children.
Teaching our children about the risk factors of kidnapping and practicing what to do with them provides an opportunity to start engaging children in their own safety and security at a young age. Teaching them why an offer of anything from someone they don’t know is such a huge risk factor and encouraging them to make a scene that attracts attention in any case that occurs. In most cases those offers will turn out to be innocuous, but lets be honest, it not normal. When was the last time you walked up to an isolated child with whom you had no relationship and offered them a piece of candy? As we can see from the failed abduction data, running, yelling and attracting attention, is also the most effective means of breaking the attack cycle before the physical assault.
Assuming all of this has failed and your child is now at contact range with a predator, there is a very high likelihood that your child’s aggressive response will be sufficient to gain his or her freedom from the attack – especially if that response occurs in a semi-public location. Looking back at failed abduction attempts, we see that 52% involved the child walking or running from the attacker. 31% involved yelling, kicking or hitting the assailant to attract attention. In only 17% of failed cases was another adult the decisive factor in stopping the attack. In other words, the child’s aggressive actions alone is 83% effective in stopping attacks. Incorporating martial arts into their lives provides them with even more effective means of stopping an assault.
The fear of a child / stranger abduction is not statistically supportable. The amount of simple, low effort, viable protective measures we can take to nearly eliminate this threat are priceless to the child and parents of those who are not abducted. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has resources, tips and brochures that can help you to teach your child to protect themselves. Education is simple, low cost, low effort and the most effective tool we can give them.
I hope this provides you with both the facts about abductions and some resources and tip on what to do to further reduce the risk of this already infrequent but postnetially devastating event.
~ Patrick Henry
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