As someone who suffered through the trauma of being abducted as a young child, I know how horrific it can be firsthand. I know what kind of long-lasting impact a childhood abduction can have on the victim. Children who are abducted, if they return home, often experience long-lasting affects from the abduction. These affects can last a few weeks, a few months, several years and continue on even into adulthood.
Of the 69,000 children abducted annually 82% of these abductions are carried out by family members, typically a mother, father or other relative in violation of a custody order. 8% of children who fall victim to family abduction experience some type of physical harm, while 7% are sexually assaulted. Nearly a fifth of children who are a victim of family abduction experience some type of mental harm.
Non-family member abductions account for 18% (approximately 12,000) of abductions, and of these 12,000 non-family member abductions, 37% are abducted by a complete stranger. These non-family member abductions are often referred to as “stereotypical kidnappings.” 40% of children who are the victims of stereotypical kidnappings are murdered, three quarters of which are usually murdered within three hours of the abduction.
These statistics are pretty frightening. Even among family members, friends, and caretakers, your child may not be safe. In fact, your child is more likely to be abducted by a relative, or someone you know than they are to be taken by a stranger. Thankfully, however, the rates of survival for children taken by family members and caretakers are much higher than those taken by non-family members.
In a study conducted by pediatricians, nearly three quarters of parents feared their child could be abducted. Child abduction is a real threat, and although it’s not 100% preventable, there are many steps that parents can take to help keep prevent their child from being abducted, as well as help locate their child should they be abducted.
Have Your Child Photographed
One of the most important things you can do is get good, ID-card style photographs of your child every six months. Children grow and change quickly, so it’s important to update these often. Many places offer “passport photos” for a small fee, and these photos are perfect for identification, should your child be abducted. You may also opt to have a state identification card made for your child at the DMV. This can be helpful as well, since your child’s weight, birth date, height and photograph are all entered into the database and could be used by the authorities later, should your child go missing.
Have Your Child Fingerprinted
Many police stations across the country offer fingerprinting for children and if your police station doesn’t, they may be able to point you in the direction of someone who can do it. Additionally, there are at-home fingerprinting kits that can be ordered online and done at home. Parents then keep the cards with the prints in their files, should they ever need them. You may also print your own free kit to fingerprint your child.
Get Regular Medical & Dental Care for Your Child
Regular medical and dental care for your child can be invaluable in helping to locate your child should they be abducted. Physicians keep very detailed notes regarding your child’s health, weight, height and other issues, and dentists often take x-rays and impressions of the jaw, which can be later used to identify a child who may have been killed.
Choose Caregivers Carefully
Should you decide to utilize the services of a childcare provider or babysitter, do so carefully. Check any and all references provided. Request that applicants submit to a criminal background check and fingerprinting. Trust your gut. If you don’t feel entirely comfortable with the person, there might be a good reason why.
Create A Code Word
If your child is old enough, talk to them about a code word. Teach them a special, unique code word and let them know to never go with anyone, even if they say that you or the child’s other primary caregiver sent them, unless they are able to tell the child the code word. Your child’s best chance of escaping, is before they are even taken. Having a code word will help put your child on the defensive, and could save their life.
Keep Windows & Doors Locked
Even when you are home, it’s important to keep your windows and doors locked. An abductor can get into your home if they aren’t, and it only takes minutes for an abduction to occur. Even if you’re sitting in the living room, an abductor could take your child from the next room in a matter of moments.
Talk to Your Child About Strangers
If your child is old enough to converse and discuss things and ideas, even in the most basic sense, talk to them about kidnapping. Let them know that they are never to go with a stranger, no matter what they say, or how much fun it might seem. Let them know that it’s possible a bad person could trick them by asking for help looking for their dog or cat, or offering them a cookie or bike in the back of their vehicle. Let them know that they should never believe these people and shouldn’t talk to them.
Prepare Your Child
In a child who is old enough to understand, make sure they know that should they find themselves being taken or abducted from a public place, they need to scream and fight. Your child’s best chance of escape is when they are first taken. If your child is taken from a public place, screaming, kicking, biting, and flailing around may attract the attention of people nearby, who may aid in your child’s rescue. It may also spook the abductor, causing him or her to abandon their plan and flee.
Never Leave Young Children Unsupervised
Do not leave your children alone in the car, or in a stroller, even for a few minutes. Don’t allow young children to play outside alone, even in a fenced in yard. An abductor could easily lift a child over the fence and be gone before you even notice.
Teach Your Child Numbers
If your child is old enough, make sure they have their mom and dad’s phone numbers memorized. You may want to make sure they know a trusted friend, or relative such as a grandparent’s number as well.
Educate Your Child About Law Enforcement
Beginning at a young age, teach your child about policemen and firefighters. Let your child know these people are “good guys” and are here to help you. Make sure they understand that if something ever goes wrong, or if they’re lost or taken and see an officer, to tell the officer what’s going on. Teach them how to dial 9-1-1 to contact an officer who can help them, and make sure they understand what situations they should and shouldn’t call 9-1-1 in. You may consider scheduling a time to take your child to a local police station and introduce them to some officers so that they know what the uniforms look like, and do not fear talking to an officer should they ever be in a situation they need to.
Teach Your Child About Vehicles
Make sure your child knows who they can and cannot ride in a vehicle with. Teach your child that, should a vehicle pull up along side of them, they should keep as much distance between themselves and the vehicle, even if the person looks confused or lost, to prevent themselves from being grabbed and pulled into the car.
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