The recent shocking discovery and rescue of three women who were held captive by a man in Ohio for approximately 10 years -- two of whom were just teenagers when they were captured -- brings to light the gripping reality of the potential dangers our children face.
Making children alert and teaching them what to do in the case of attempted abduction is best enacted as a partnership between the school, the police and parents. Just as the police teach children how to stop, look and listen before crossing the street, we now need to teach them how not to be abducted. This is our new normal.
I believe it is important to teach children how to avoid being seized, how to resist a potential captor and how to escape. Kids are vulnerable and trusting, and it is our job as parents to remind them of basic safety rules, including:
1. Don't walk away with anyone other than a parent, or the person who was already arranged to take care of you that day.
2. Remember, an adult does not need help from a child -- not to find a puppy, not for anything. If an adult is asking you for help, that's a warning sign.
3. Avoid getting into a car with a stranger at all costs.
4. Know the rules: what is OK and what is not OK, and have confidence to take action if you feel someone is trying to take advantage of you.
The most important thing parents can do is to communicate openly with their children at home. Have a home atmosphere in which kids can let you know what is going on in their life. A very important point is to re-learn old concepts of adult/children interaction. Teach your child his rights. He has the right to say "no." Children should know there are different rules for different situations; they don't have to always be polite. Politeness can translate into doing what the potential abductor says.
Teach Your Child Techniques to Avoid Being Taken
In any potential abduction situation, there are windows of opportunity for the child to make choices that could save his or her life. Abductors win through intimidation, so it is very important to give your child good self-esteem and the confidence to carry through these possibly life-saving techniques. Consider practicing these techniques at home or school, with other parents and kids. The more kids practice, the more they will remember these techniques, and the more secure and confident they will feel in following through if they ever have to.
1. The Velcro technique -- Make like Velcro: Grab and hold onto something and do not let go. Grab a tree, grab a bike, grab a stop sign post, or even grab a different adult, because another adult is not usually involved in an abduction. This makes it harder to disengage a child in an attempted abduction.
2. Yell as loud as you can "Stop, Stranger!" -- Teach your child that anyone that is not a mother or father is in the new definition of a stranger if they are trying to take you away.
3. Windmill technique or swimming technique -- Rotate arms in a big circle, preventing attacker from getting a good grip. This can turn attackers arms inside out -- which is a weaker position from which he could grab hold of the child.
4. Make a lot of noise -- Give a child a whistle on a necklace and teach them to blow on that whistle when they might be in danger. Bang on something, scream, be loud to call attention from others who might be able to help. A good commotion can frighten an abductor and by shifting the balance of power, turn the tables on them.
How to escape from a car
If a child is somehow placed into a car by an abductor, there is usually a three-hour window of opportunity. The abductor doesn't usually hurt the child immediately -- there is time to escape if the child-learned-behavior allows the child not to panic and be reactive. Therefore, it is helpful for children to know methods of escaping, such as the following:
1. Reach for the door and try to get out immediately.
2. Do not be passive. In a four-door car, the child can jump in the backseat and try the door quickly.
3. If the child is placed in a trunk, don't panic: Look for a panel in the trunk that comes right out when you pull on it. Tear the wires to the tail-lights and brakes. Police might then pull the abductor over.
Abductors are often someone whom the child knows
Abductors don't usually fit the stereotypical profile of a scary, creepy stranger or dirty old man. Motives are often sexual and most are not true strangers. They target children and seek their confidence by developing a casual relationship with them. Family abductors make up the majority of kidnap offenders, as in a custody battle.
Final safety reminders for parents
1. Know where your children are, and know who they know.
2. Pay attention to changes in your child's behavior.
3. Never leave your child alone in a public place, car, or stroller.
4. Never ask a stranger to hold your baby, even for an instant.
5. Don't label their lunch boxes or clothing.
6. Don't let children go out alone. Remember the buddy system in swimming.
7. Teach your child their telephone number, how to contact you and a close friend.
8. Pay attention to threats.
9. In custody battles, get social security, credit card numbers, and addresses.
10. Take a lot of photos of your child and keep them current.
11. Keep dental and medical records.
12. Have a neighborhood meeting so that children know safe houses in the neighborhood where they can run in the case of an emergency.
13. Never open the door without having a secret password between you and your child.
14. Older children should be encouraged to use their critical thinking and intuition, and to anticipate, for example, slow-driving cars in front of a neighborhood or playground.
Remember, above all else, safety first. Prevention is the key. Develop a family plan of action for emergency and crisis situation, and practice and rehearse them with your children through role modeling and role-playing. Teach your children the rules, and give them the confidence they need to be able to follow through on the escape techniques outlined above. Emphasize your child's right of privacy and ownership, and that sexual advances from adults are against the law.
If they are involved and invested, children are more likely to remember and take action if someone tries to abduct them. We have to empower our kids to help keep them safe.