18 May Child Safety 2019
This is a very difficult subject to discuss and can sometimes be so uncomfortable, that most people cannot consider having to warn their child of these dangers. One of the worst fears a parent can have is one of their child being sexually molested or abducted. These horrific crimes can be committed in the blink of an eye and can have years of lasting effects on both the parents and child. The locations these offenders troll are usually out in the open and in very public places.
As a retired law enforcement professional and a concerned parent, I want to do everything I can to prevent these crimes from occurring to all children. From my background in law enforcement, I was privy to hearing about a host of child molestation cases and abductions from nearly all over the United States.
This piece is for parents and guardians on advice to prevent their young child from being molested or abducted. The information may illustrate how these despicable crimes can be committed focused and how we all need to remain vigilant for the safety and welfare of all children. Parents, guardians and anyone who is truly interested in safety and welfare of all children should be aware of the hidden dangers of those who may not either see or be capable of protecting themselves. Included are tactics that can be taught to a child and for the parents to instill and practice with their children. I included practical techniques that a child as young as the age of seven can use to cause enough harm to possibly escape from their abductor.
Please practice the “what if” scenarios with your child and share this information with other parents.
There are different types of abduction cases anywhere from parental abduction to stranger abduction. The focus on this article is on strangers.
Organized vs. Disorganized offenders:
An Organized offender is a person (male and/or female) who has carefully given significant thought to how a particular crime can occur. These offenders have selected their victim, scouted the location(s) where they will approach their victim, and will bring everything with them they think they may need to commit their crime.
A Disorganized offender is the type of person (male and/or female) who has not planned every aspect of the crime. These offenders typically have not completely thought out every aspect of their crime, and more than likely acted spontaneously when they saw an opportunity.
A Compliant female or child is a person who works in conjunction with another counterpart to commit either a sex crime or abduction. The female or child may initiate the attack or help to support the main offender in the commission of their crime.
Approaching the victim:
The suspect may approach the victim by using a “confidence” style approach, or a “blitz” method. For the confidence approach, the suspect may approach using some type of charm as a guise all designed to get close to the victim without alarming the victim. The charm could be some type of conversation designed that is of interest to the child. A number of ruses have been used from puppies, ice cream, candy, gifts, photos, etc. Other cases have the adult telling a convincing lie about the child’s family in order to get within the child’s comfort zone.
As for the blitz method, the victim usually never really notices the suspect until once the suspect launches their physical attack from inside the victim’s comfort zone.
Past abduction cases have occurred with children snatched off bicycles, forcefully removed out of grocery carts, attacked inside public restrooms, taken while playing in a public place (Shopping mall or Fairgrounds), walking to the neighborhood store or while on their way to and from school.
In May of 2019, two different attempted abduction cases out of Los Angeles, CA saw four- year- old children as the victims. In one case, a child was picked up by an adult female inside a McDonald’s fast food restaurant. The child was rescued and the suspect was arrested. In another case, the four-year-old child was walking with his family when an unrelated female grabbed the little boy and began walking away. Once the father of the little boy intervened, the female suspect continued to follow the boy and his father before finally leaving the area.
A child molestation can occur as quickly as just a few seconds. All a suspect will need is a few uninterrupted moments with your child (of nearly any age) where they can touch, have them touch or expose themselves to the child. There are cases where young children were approached inside a store. This may occur when a parent is distracted by looking at an item, or because the parent has allowed the child to wander into another aisle or department.
In the most egregious of child molestation cases, the suspect may have groomed the child over a long period of time. These offenders can be people that are somehow involved in the child’s life as a relative, family friend, or professional position of authority. Offenders span across all ethnic and socio-economic lines as well as representing nearly every occupation.
Grooming the child:
In some cases, the offender will not initially appear to look or act like the monster they truly are. Instead, they may appear to the child and/or the parents to be nice. Their intent is to be as non-threatening as possible, all with the goal of eventually committing their heinous act(s) against the child. They may spend considerable time with the child acting as a friend, mentor, coach, etc. all designed to lower everyone’s suspicions and gain everyone’s trust.
Intimidating the child:
Often time the offender will say or take certain actions to intimidate the child. Using a deadly weapon (gun or knife) to threaten to hurt either the child or the child’s family members are common ways to intimidate a child into cooperating.
Common Parental Mistakes:
There are common mistakes a parent or guardian can make that may provide an opportunity for the person or persons seeking to molest or abduct a child. Please do what you can to avoid making these mistakes. The consequences of failure are too important to neglect!
Being distracted: This is when the parent/guardian is focused on anything other than the child’s safety. In contemporary times, the incessant use of a smart phone or other electronic media causes many to be more interested in viewing what is on the screen than paying attention to their child.
Leaving the child unattended: I have seen very small children of the age between 2 and 4 years old left unattended in a restaurant. Both parents (who did not consider leaving one at a time) went into a blind spot inside a restaurant to pick up and prepare the meals for themselves and their children, leaving their children unattended for at least three minutes.
Other examples are when one of more children are left unattended inside a vehicle while the parent/guardian enters a house or business, sometimes leaving their vehicle running with the keys in the ignition. The justification given by the adult was they only intended to be gone for just a moment. If an offender was watching, how long will it take for them to step in and commit their crime?
Allowing your child too much freedom: These are the situations where a child is allowed to go outside their house unattended and unsupervised at a very young age. One only has to watch children in just about any neighborhood walk to and from school. You might be surprised how young some of these children actually are. Other cases, unaccompanied and unsupervised children visit nearby parks or playgrounds. Parents have retorted that those crimes occur elsewhere and would never happen there.
Providing your child a cell phone with easy internet access:
If you really need to provide a cell phone for your school age child, ensure that it is the type that does not have internet access. There are too many predators that will troll the internet and lure a child away with promises a parent cannot even begin to imagine. Those promises could lead to sexually molestation, exploitation, human trafficking as well as homicide.
If you allow your child to have access to the Internet at your home, ensure that you are savvy enough to comfortably navigate and investigate your child’s internet browsing history.
Always supervise your child as they use the internet. Allowing the computer to be used in private locations within the home only fosters the potential for bad things to happen.
Allowing your child to use Public Restrooms unaccompanied:
If you are going to allow your children to use a public restroom, ensure the restroom is free of any persons loitering in or around that location. Too many times, public restrooms have been the location of choice for sex crimes to occur.
Teach and direct your child which restroom to use when you are out in public with them. Most locations may have a “Family” restroom. View the room to ensure no other persons are inside prior to your child using the room. Stand just outside the door and wait for your child to finish their business.
Allowing others access to your children: Some parents allow just about anyone to babysit their children and allow their children to go places with these relative strangers.
In the case of a very young child, strangers cannot help themselves from wanting to touch, hold their hand or pet your cute child. By allowing these people (either strangers to you or the child) to touch your child without the parent telling the child that person is allowed to touch them, reinforces in the child’s mind that any stranger can touch them without permission at any time. It’s okay to shield your child from the touch or conversation of a stranger. I would much rather be seen as slightly rude than to potentially reinforce to my child it is okay to converse with or be touched by a stranger.
Writing your child’s name on their belongings:
This is a practice done by some parents who want to be able to identify their child’s belongings from another child. This also provides anyone who has bad intentions to know your child’s name and use that name during the process of gaining access to the child. You can use other identifying features such as the last four numbers of the adult’s phone number.
Placing photographs of your child on social media:
Lots of parents place their children or grandchildren’s photographs on a host of social media sites. If you choose to do this, ensure your privacy settings will not allow random strangers to view those photographs and other personal details about your child. Be cautious placing their names, identifying features of the child’s residence, school etc. that would allow anyone who might view those photos to know much more information than you might want them to know.
Failure of you to be on time: If a parent/guardian has a dedicated time to pick up a child from school or an activity, be on time if not a few minutes early. Should the parent/guardian arrive late, the child may be waiting “unattended” for their ride to arrive. Always arrive early just in case the activity ends early. Being early allows you to be present and cautiously waiting for your child for their safety. Lastly, rather than have your child negotiate through the parking lot, get out of your vehicle and meet your child on foot.
If the child is participating in an activity, stay there and watch. Not only do you express interest and support in what the child is doing, but it also helps to watch to ensure no suspicious activity occurs. Resist the urge to zone out by reading a book or other activity. You need to watch what is going on!
Relying on the use of self-defense gadgets: There are items on the market that proport by using their device, it will save your child should they encounter a bad situation.
These “gadgets” can be noise makers, devices that are used to strike the offender and a host of other items, all designed to thwart an attack. If a child depends on these types of gadgets, these gimmicks can provide a false sense of security for the child and the parent. By relying on these types of devices may place either the child or the parent in a situation perhaps the child may never have been in without the gadget.
Keeping updated photos of your child: Ensure that you have a current photograph of your child taken each year. These photographs should accurately represent how you child looks. Take photos of their face as well as an accurate depiction of their height and weight.
These photos can be used to provide to law enforcement who in turn may provide it to the media in the worst-case scenario that you need to report your child is missing. Remember, this photograph may go out to the public to assist them in the easy identification of your child.
What we should teach our children: Children should be taught these principles to help keep them safe. If at anytime a child feels unsafe or unsure, the child should immediately and always get to a safe place, tell an adult they know and trust, and to do the things continuously taught by their parents to keep them safe.
- Don’t talk to strangers:
We tell our young children not to talk to strangers, but then we as adults violate those same safety rules. When our children see this, they may think if the parent does it – they may be confused. Just because a stranger wants to talk to the child does not mean the child needs to reciprocate in conversing with the stranger. Teach your child about responsible adults and the principles discussed below.
- Who are responsible adults:
These would be people a child can go to and request help. The child should never go away with the responsible adult, but wait for uniformed police in a marked police vehicle and the parent to arrive. Once the parent arrives, the parent and the child may then leave the area together. One of the hardest parts is to identify what is a “responsible adult.” People such as known school officials of your child (school teachers, counselors, etc.), Medical professionals, law enforcement or fire fighter officials and trusted relatives and neighbors are all examples of responsible adults a child could go to (but not away with) in case of an emergency.
Teach your child to identify and use them in case of an emergency.
The responsible adult’s job has three roles: 1: to protect the child keeping them safe from physical harm from an offender; 2: notify law enforcement of the circumstances of a crime and 3: contact the parents to have them respond to the location to pick up their child. The responsible adult is not to take the child anywhere or to physically and unnecessarily touch the child in the course of keeping them safe.
- Common Ruses used by offenders:
Teach and reinforce safety practices for some of the common ruses and tricks offenders use. By educating your child, it may prevent him/her from ever getting too close to a potential offender. Ruses like offering money, candy or gifts if the child can come closer to them. Another ruse is helping the stranger look for a lost pet, play with a puppy or telling the child they are there at the parent’s request to pick them up because a family member has been hurt.
- What to do when approached: There is noting that mandates your child needs to converse with an adult stranger (man or woman). Even more so, there should be no legitimate reason for an adult man/woman to ever seek guidance or help from a child.
Make certain your children know should they be approached by a stranger, they don’t need to stay and talk with them. In fact, the longer the child remains at that location or converses with the stranger the more their safety may be at risk. Teach children and demonstrate what is a safe distance to stand from an adult they don’t know (at least ten feet). Keeping that distance may just be the one opportunity to provide an avenue of escape should one be needed.
Also, teach the child that strangers may approach them anywhere – inside or around their home. These places could be from the relative safety of their front or back yard, school, public park/playground, shopping mall, etc. Reinforce that strangers are men and women the child does not know, and that even though the stranger may have a kind face, they are still strangers. Teach them to follow your lead on how to react so they will stay safe.
- Play the What If game with your child:
First discuss the potential scenarios you want to protect your child from and then play the “what if” game with them with you as the potential stranger. Do not overwhelm your child with countless scenarios per day. Consider playing this game on a periodic basis. Remember, the goal of this exercise is not to traumatize the child, but to help them see how to react when you may not be present.
few “What if” Scenarios:
- The offender approaches the child and offers free (whatever) if the child comes near: This ruse is designed to lure the child to come closer to the offender. It does not matter what item is offered by the offender the child should never go towards the offender.
- The offender threatens the child with force: No matter what the stranger threatens, the child should never cooperate or go away with the stranger.
- The offender shows the child a weapon: No matter what type of weapon the offender has, the child is better off immediately escaping from the offender than to go away with the offender.
- The offender grabs the child: Even if the child has taken self-defense lessons, a small child is really no match for an adult in an even exchange of physical force. Therefore, if an offender ever grabs a child, the child should use immediate physical resistance such as biting into the face or gouging into the eyes of the offender. If the offender has grabbed onto the child, the child should bite the offender hard enough to cause the offender to release whatever they used to grab the child. Show you child how to bite into the thumb and thumb knuckle area of the hand, approximately two inches down from the thumb nail of the knuckle.
- There may be safety in numbers:
Most offenders would prefer to approach a child who is alone than a child who is with several other children. Teach your child there may be safety in numbers and it might be better to stay among a group of his/her peers than to venture off on their own.
Also, seek permission among the parents of your child’s peer group and with their parents present to ensure these children have been educated as to what to do if approached and the things they can do to help should help be required.
- Teach the child how to use 9-1-1:
Teach your child how to use a telephone/cellular phone to call for immediate police response. They don’t need to actually dial 9-1-1 when practicing, but you can walk them through the exact steps. The child will need to tell the 9-1-1 operator their location. Make sure your child can use landmarks to help provide a clue to their location.
- No Short cuts:
Once children are of a sufficient age to be on their own and actually traverse their own neighborhood, they should travel only on main roads and routes previously identified by the parent. Taking a shortcut though areas that provide concealment of potential offenders who may use that area to scout their next victim should be avoided at all cost.
- What a child could yell to signal they need help:
The easiest two words a child can use to alert others to this person is there to cause them hard could be “Stranger-Help” There are a number of other words that can be used, but you want people within ear shot to know this child is being physically grabbed by someone who is not their parent and to either intervene to stop the attack or call 9-1-1 and immediately talk to police dispatchers.
- Teach to get away from the offender:
It is very important the child takes every opportunity to escape from their captor and every conceivable moment. There are numerous cases where the offender is bold enough to take the abducted child into a public business (fast food restaurant, convenience store or department store). Teach your child to attract attention by knocking things off shelves or to go to an open cash register and grab onto the cashier and to yell “call the police, stranger.” Holding onto the cashier ensures the cashier will take immediate action to help this child before they do anything else.
- How your child’s friends can help fight back:
If children are together when an offender approaches a child using a confidence approach, other children who are present may be able to remind the child approached of the safety rules about strangers. All the children should leave the place together and go to a safe place to report the incident.
If a vehicle is involved, as long as the child is not in danger he/she could get the license plate and/or description of the vehicle.
If the offender were to grab a child, the others could come to the aid of their friend by biting. Biting leaves DNA and dental impressions that not only would the offender find difficult to explain, but strong evidence that could lead to a conviction once the offender is apprehended.
- How and where to hide:
Should a child ever need to hide from an offender, use teachable moments while playing the “what if” game as to places a child could use as great hiding places. Hiding under parked cars or inside garbage cans or dumpster just long enough for the offender to leave the area. Once the child believes the offender has left the area, the child should run to the closest place of safety and ask for assistance from a responsible adult.
- What to do if taken:
In the worst-case scenario, if a child is abducted, the child must be taught the offender will lie and use trickery to keep the child compliant. The offender may tell the child that if they resist, the child or one of more members of the child’s family will be hurt.
Ninety-nine percent of the times this is a lie just to keep the child from resisting or attempting to escape. The child must look for every opportunity to escape and summon help!
Leave clues behind in the form of saliva. If a vehicle is used, teach the child to spit and rub it into areas that may not be easily visible to the offender. Places such as the spaces between the seats and the carpeted areas of the vehicle are places the offender may not easily see. When the police are given the opportunity to ever conduct a search of the vehicle, it would be difficult for the offender to explain why the child’s DNA is inside their vehicle.
- Neighborhood Child safety:
If you live in an area where you have frequent contact with your neighbors AND you feel you can somewhat trust your neighbors, an inquiry into their backgrounds to see if they might just be the household where your child may be able to run to for help.
The inquiry should consist of the following issues:
the names of all adults over the age of 18 who may either reside or frequent
- Checking the sex offender registry to see if any of their names (or faces) are associated with that residence;
- Look on-line for the sex offenders in your neighborhood that provides photographs and pertinent information such as their photograph and location within your area;
- Certain cellular telephone app’s have information sex offenders in your neighborhood.
How non family adults can help:
- Once listeners or readers go to the respective news websites to view the Amber Alert, each person can take a screen shot of the photograph of the missing child. This provides each citizen with a photograph readily available should they need to immediately compare it to any child they see in the public (or private) arena. Keep in mind that just because there was not an Amber alert issues for the area, perhaps a child may have been taken from another location outside the Amber alert area.
- Be on the lookout for unusual activity involving a child and a potential offender. Although most offenders are adults, keep in mind that there have been cases where a child has been lured away by older children.
- Look to see if the child appears to be under any signs of duress, attempting to escape from or resist against the adult with them. This can sometimes be difficult to determine in that this situation may resemble a child in the company of parent and the child is unhappy and may be acting out.
- Key in on facial features of the child as the offender may have dressed the child in different clothing other than what the child was wearing when he/she was abducted.
- Be aware that the offender(s) may be a lone male, lone female, or a couple working together.
- Approaching a potential offender believed to be the person responsible for a child’s abduction is very dangerous. If you ever “reasonably believe” the child and the person is in fact the one listed in the Amber Alert or missing person report, use your smart phone to photograph the child and their potential suspect. Immediately call 9-1-1 and report your concern! Provide your location and ask they expedite their response to your location. If the suspect is about to leave the area with the child, safely obtain a photograph of their vehicle to include the license plate. Note the direction of travel and once again call 9-1-1 to update the information.
- If you are 100% certain the child in question is the same child in the Amber alert, and only if you are physically and legally prepared to use force to rescue the child, use the force necessary to keep the child and yourself safe. Otherwise, you may be placing your life and the life of the child at risk.
Law Enforcement and the Media:
Encourage your local news media stations to use photographs of any child who may be listed in an Amber alert. Remember, the facial recognition of the child may just add to the speedy identification and recovery of any missing child.
As soon as the law enforcement agency has confirmed a child has been abducted, the agency will obtain and release to the media all the necessary information on the identity of the child, suspect(s) and suspect vehicle.
The most current photograph of the child should be expeditiously provided to all local media stations. Instead of just the brief text information about the child, each media outlet broadcasting the Amber alert should have a photo capable of being viewed on their respective news websites.
If you are considering professional Child Safety training for you and your child or children, contact us to schedule a customized class for both parents and your child. The training can be in a small group with the parents and the child present, or you can arrange for private lessons. 02000