Real World and Online Predators: How to Keep Your Child Safe
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 2018 alone, there were more than 1,600 attempted child abductions by strangers. Equally troubling, there were 18.4 million reports that year to the CyberTipline relating to child sexual abuse images, online enticement of kids, child sex trafficking, and child sexual molestation.
But strangers aren’t the only culprits of these crimes. Tragically, kids are at higher risk of abduction or sexual molestation by acquaintances, family, and friends. According to the FBI, only 24 percent of actual kidnappings are by strangers, while nearly half are by family members. The balance, 27 percent, is by acquaintances of the victims. These latter two statistics add to the difficulty in teaching kids how to be safe.
Teenagers are at the highest risk of being murdered by a stranger. Finkelhor and Ormrod, in their Juvenile Justice Report, point out that only 3 percent of murdered children under 12 are victims of strangers. In contrast, 87 percent of teen murder victims are killed by strangers.
Most kids who are sexually assaulted, however, are neither abducted or murdered. In fact, 1 in 10 kids will be sexually abused before the age of 18, according to the organization, Darkness to Light.
Sex offenders are good con artists. They often groom kids and even the adults around children. These predators “gradually and methodically build trust,” states Estey Bomberger’s website, Child Molestation Victims, childmolestationvictims.com.
Shy kids are at higher risk for abduction and for sexual assault. Many predators look specifically for shy kids and those who lack self-esteem because they lack the assertiveness to speak up for themselves.
During the infant and early years, children can be kidnapped quickly with no need for coaxing. Leaving a small child unattended for just moments is long enough for an abduction to occur.
When shopping, keep your child in sight at all times. For challenging outings, leave your child with a sitter, or use a child safety harness with toddlers.
As soon as your child is old enough to understand, read stories, and discuss stranger and acquaintance dangers to reduce your child’s risk.
Whether at home or away, young children should be supervised when they play outdoors. As they grow, keep close tabs on their whereabouts. Never allow them to play unattended in parks, wooded lots, or secluded areas.
As Your Child Grows
Pedophiles and other sexual predators come from all walks of life. Although kids of all ages are victims of child sexual abuse, most pedophiles prefer children nearing puberty. According to Child Lures, a child-abuse prevention program, pedophiles “prey on a child’s sexual ignorance and curiosity.”
Sexual abuse is most often committed by males, though not exclusively, and of all social and economic backgrounds. Pedophiles often look for access to kids by taking a job working with or near them, chaperoning or leading activities and clubs, and coaching sports programs. While not all men who take an interest or get involved with kids are predators, parents should always remain alert to the possibility.
Teach your child what areas of the body are off-limits to others and how to say “no” to someone who touches them in an uncomfortable way. Also, make sure your child understands that if something does happen, your child isn’t to blame and should tell an adult.
There are several changes in your child’s behavior that might indicate something has gone wrong, according to the North American Missing Children’s Association. These include withdrawal, unusual anger, acting out, fear of being alone or with a particular person, or decreased interest in activities, especially those in which the molester is involved.
Pre-Teens and Adolescents
It might seem that stranger danger situations should lessen as kids grow older. Instead, it is compounded, as strangers and acquaintances prey on older kids by different, more stealthy, and accessible means. Approximately, one in five kids is solicited by an online predator, according to the latest Youth Internet Safety Survey by the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center. Although online filters are imperfect and don’t screen every inappropriate site, they can significantly reduce access to dangerous sites.
Also, insist your kids only use chat rooms designed for their age group. This reduces their risk of involvement in adult discussions. Then, know which ones they use. Many kids’ chat sites are moderated to ensure no inappropriate or potentially dangerous discussion takes place. Be aware, though, that predators often lurk even on kids’ social media platforms and through gaming sites and systems. Some child predators are known to pose as children to befriend kids. Most, however, know their adult age can be part of the attraction, particularly for teens.
Make sure your kids understand the importance of never giving out their name, or other personal or family information to strangers on the Internet. Teach your kids that no matter how well they think they know an online acquaintance, or how old the stranger claims to be, there’s no certainty the person is who he claims to be or what his intent is. They should never meet someone they’ve met online without parent approval.
More Tips for Safety
Getting across to kids the dangers that strangers and even acquaintances can present requires talking to your kids at their level. It’s also essential that kids know realistic ways to protect themselves. The following suggestions could help your child avert or escape a dangerous or threatening situation.
Your kids, even adolescents, should always tell you where they’re going (the exact address), who they’ll be with (first and last names), and for how long. If the time to return is undetermined, give your child a check-in time. Your child should always walk with others, never alone, at night in particular. Try not to scare your child, but offer real-life incidents your child can relate to. If you or someone you know has been victimized, cautiously share this information with your child. Just do it in an age-appropriate manner they can comprehend and handle emotionally. Children, and even adults, tend to live in the moment and believe, “It can’t happen to me.” Sharing a real event that’s happened to someone you or your child knows can help bring home the reality that it can happen to anyone. Teach your kids to say “no” to adults they don’t know, and even to adults they do know, if something doesn’t seem right.
Always keep doors locked, even when an adult is at home. Teach this by example. Never open the door to a stranger regardless of his or her appearance. If your child is home alone, your child shouldn’t open the door unless parents have approved that particular person on that specific occasion.
Create a secret family password that only specific family members and friends would be given to pick up your child. If your child is approached and the password is not immediately relayed, your child should run away.
If your child’s on a bike and someone tries to grab him, he should wrap his full body (arms and legs) around the frame of his bike. Because the bike moves with the child, it makes it difficult for a fast getaway by the abductor.
Kids should understand that if they’re being chased or they’re captured, they should defend themselves. Your child should scream loudly and continuously and attempt to run away.
Finally, when it comes to abduction, an ex-spouse, estranged grandparents, or other family member is even more likely to be a perpetrator. More than 200,000 children are abducted by family members each year. If you suspect the possibility of this occurring, take every precaution while abiding by child visitation requirements. If you have a serious concern, seek legal advice on how to protect your child when a court order requires you to allow unsupervised visitation with the potential perpetrator.
If Your Child is Missing
Be prepared in the unlikely event your child disappears. Keep an updated record that includes your child’s hair and eye color, height, weight, blood type, phone numbers and addresses of friends, and a recent photo.
Be sure to include several strands of your child’s hair with the roots and follicles attached for a DNA sample. Also, create an impression of your child’s teeth in a piece of sterilized Styrofoam.
According to federal law, a waiting period cannot be required for reporting missing children. If your child comes up missing, contact your local police department. Make every effort to search for your child while using caution not to disrupt evidence.