Recently, there were two attempted abductions in my area of girls under the age of seventeen. Most abductions are committed by family members, but in both of these cases, the perpetrator was a stranger.
Yes, it still happens. A stranger approaches a person and persuades them to get in their car. It happens to children and it happens to young adults. It happens with other people nearby. The two recent cases happened near schools right after they had let out.
Every year in the United States, approximately 300 children between 12 and 17 are abducted by strangers. Children are raised to listen to adults and to be polite, and attackers use these behaviors against them in an abduction scenario. The would-be abductor reels them in with questions or asks for help with something like finding a lost puppy. Then when they get close enough, they grab the child. They look for targets they can overwhelm and grab quickly and quietly without drawing attention.
In one of the recent cases, the stranger told the girl her mother had an emergency and sent him to pick her up. The girl started to approach his car to respond but instead turned and ran to a neighbor’s house. In the other case, the stranger started asking the girl questions about herself and her school. He was moving toward her but she shouted and ran back to the school.
The best defense is to give your children tools to let them know when an adult is safe to interact with. But keep it simple. Have a code word only you and your child know, or tell your child and their school of only one or two specific people who are allowed to pick them up in an emergency. Finally, share the tips below with your child. In both cases, the girls used one or more of the strategies below to avoid being abducted.
But what about your child in that moment of being approached? Here’s what they can do:
- Keep their distance! A stranger who isn’t close enough to touch isn’t close enough to grab. NEVER approach a car or lean in the window. If the person asks you to move in because they can’t hear you, that’s a trick! Leave the area instead.
- Run! Run to the nearest place with other people and tell them immediately what happened. If there is no person or building nearby, run in the opposite direction the car is facing and get out of sight fast. In other words don’t just run down the sidewalk where they can circle back to you.
- GET LOUD! The stranger wants to grab you as quickly and as quietly as possible so make a scene! Start shouting as you back away. Let other people know what is happening so you get help and others can identify the car and stranger.
- Fight back. If they grab you, react quickly and fight back as hard as you can. The first few seconds can make all the difference in a fight, so react with force no matter what the attacker says. For instance, they may tell you , “I won’t harm you if you come quietly.” NEVER believe them. And always YELL. Remember, their goal is to get you away from the area as quickly as possible without detection. So whether you are standing or get knocked to the ground, use your entire body to fight back. Go for the face and scratch, claw, gouge, pull and twist (ears, nose) as hard as possible. Strike with your elbows, knees and feet and don’t stop until they are incapacitated or leave.
- Tell. Always tell an adult what has happened so it can be reported and the stranger caught before he tries to grab another child. If possible, remember details of the person or car. You can practice now by playing a game with a friend. Pick a place in public and give yourself 30 seconds to survey the area. Then turn your back to it and tell your friend all you can remember about it. Focus on people, cars and license plates. All it takes is one vital detail to track a person down.
Predators may lay the groundwork for abduction long before they drive up beside a car. This is called “grooming.” Abductors can find children online and get “close” to them by following them on social media, gaming platforms or apps. They pose as a peer to the child and start a dialog with comments and private messages. They gather private information and make the child feel comfortable with them . Then they arrange a meeting where the child gets in the stranger’s car.
Protect your child with the following strategies:
- Talk. Share information with your child about the ways they could be targeted by an online predator. Tell them not to share any personal information, photos, or videos in a public forum or with someone they don’t know in real life as it permanently puts that information on the internet. Teach them the importance of saying “no” to any request that makes them feel uncomfortable
- Build trust. Create a relationship with your child where they can talk to you about behavior that makes them uncomfortable. Stress how important it is that they let you know immediately when something feels wrong.
- Review your child’s online profiles often. Look at what they post, who follows them and what type of comments they make. Check their security settings!
- Check in with your child when they are online. Ask what they are doing, who they are talking to, and what they are watching.
- Create an online curfew to prevent late night chats.
- Do not assume online classes are safe. Check with teachers about safety protocols and check your child’s browser history for web surfing activities.
- Be aware of any changes to your child’s behavior. If your child tries to hide their online activity or becomes withdrawn, angry or depressed it may be a sign of online abuse.
- Report suspicious activity. Report any activity that makes you uncomfortable to local authorities or the FBI at tips.fbi.gov or filing a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or report.cybertip.org.
Whenever you hear about incidents like these, share the information with your community. The more we know how abductors operate, the better we can prepare to avoid or end an uncomfortable situation before it results in abduction. In both of the cases mentioned here, the girls told an adult who was able to quickly share a description of the abductor, his car, and the way he tried to lure the child with all members of the school communities.
Take care, stay safe,
P.S. After I wrote this blog, another incident of an attempted abduction was reported. Two men in a white van tried to grab a middle school student as she walked home after school. The man in the passenger seat lept out of the vehicle and tried to grab the girl. Luckily she fought him off and yelled, calling attention to the van. Please talk about this newsletter and share these tips!