Every once in a while a child goes missing, abducted on their way to or from school. Or they might be snatched while playing outside in their front yard or in common areas of their apartment complex. Rarely are such kids ever seen alive again. These instances don’t happen often, but they are terrifying enough to strike fear and dread into the heart of every parent.
When something like this happens, people take notice. It’s all over the news. What many parents don’t realize, however, is that for every successful abduction-murder such as this there are at least one or two dozen abduction attempts that aren’t successful which involve a stranger trying to lure a child away.
These instances don’t always make prime-time news, and so most parents don’t know about them. Yet they are an important part of the safety equation. I’ve personally known of 3 instances where there was a series of abduction attempts around a local elementary school, in which 5 or 6 different kids were approached within the span of about 2 weeks. Thankfully, none of the attempts were successful, and in each case it stopped as abruptly as it began. The person behind them vanished into thin air, disappearing back into the community. Studies also typically show around two dozen reported attempts for every successful abduction. Other attempts are never reported by parents, either because they don’t know what good it will do and don’t want to endure the hassle, or because they aren’t completely sure their child isn’t misunderstanding something that occurred and don’t want to risk a big hoopla over nothing.
Some of these instances likely involve high school students engaging in ill-advised pranks. Some reported cases may indeed be misunderstandings in which an adult with no ill intent makes a child nervous. We’ve also seen cases where an abductor attempts to lure kids, but once they actually succeed, they realize they do not have it in them to go through with whatever it is they had planned, and actually let the child go unharmed, never to try again. Yet many of these other unsuccessful attempts involve actual serial predators, some of whom may have even gotten away with murder before.
Such cases deliver two important lessons for parents. First, they illustrate the value of teaching kids about stranger danger, as it shows that many children can and do protect themselves when something like this happens. But on the opposite end, it also illustrates how a potential abductor may test many children before finding the weakest link.
Unfortunately, all it takes is one to be successful. An abductor only needs one child to ignore their gut feeling and walk away with someone who lures them. That’s where safety training comes in. Every mother and father must ask themselves: is my child the weakest link? Unless you’ve taken steps beyond merely talking about strangers, the answer could be yes. Especially when it comes to young children, hidden camera studies have found that as many as 7 in 10 kids will walk away with a stranger when tested.
Kids need more than a one-time lecture about stranger danger to be adequately protected. They need to know about context (why it’s okay to talk to strangers with your parents around but not when they aren’t by your side). They need to learn about the different lures a stranger might use so that it sets off instant alarm bells in their head. They need to know enough to keep a safe distance away from any car that approaches them. (Free books and resources on stranger danger can be found at https://keepyourchildsafe.org/child-safety/child-abduction-kidnapping/ )
Even with the many unsuccessful attempts, the threat of abduction is still a small fraction of the risk you take with your kids simply by driving them to school each morning. So don’t get overly paranoid or become overprotective. But one child is still one too many, especially when a few hours of extra safety training could have prevented it. If that one weakest link happens to be your child, all the statistics in the world won’t matter.
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