A recent string of attempted child abductions has local leaders promising an increased presence by public safety officials around schools before and after classes. Law enforcement representatives, educators and individuals working to prevent abductions agree adults need to take more proactive roles if their children are to stay out of harm’s way.
”It all comes back to that adult supervision,” said Nancy McBride, national safety director for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the national clearinghouse for information on missing children and child victimization prevention. ”We are saying that we have to take the onus of safety off of children because it’s our job as adults to make sure kids are safe.”
Said Toledo Police Chief Jack Smith at a March 24 press conference: ”We cannot accomplish our job without the support of the citizens — the folks that are out there all the time that know what should and should not be going on in their neighborhoods.”
What can parents or guardians do to keep their children safe? More than one might think and a lot of which is basic, abduction prevention advocates say.
Avoid suspicious situations
In the three Toledo incidents, all of which involved teenage girls, victims were able to flee their attackers by using force to thwart abduction. However, it was the actions of three Perrysburg elementary students last week that exemplified what children should do when approached by suspicious individuals. When offered candy by a 17-year-old male near Toth School in Perrysburg, the students immediately ran and told adults what had happened.
”We want kids to be able to recognize and avoid dangerous situations,” McBride said. ”We don’t want children to be in confrontations with perpetrators.”
Shelly Blanco, who conducts seminars at the Martial Arts Center for children on how to identify strangers, said young children often aren’t aware of who a stranger is or what that person might look like. Not only is a stranger someone the child doesn’t know, she said, he or she is a person their parents don’t know they are with.
”A lot of child abductions or child molestations happen internally,” Blanco said. ”They happen with a neighbor, they happen with an uncle.”
If a child doesn’t think of someone as a stranger, Blanco said, they’re more prone to interact with the individual approaching them. She said it’s also important parents or guardians teach their children to become skeptical when someone they don’t know offers a bribe or a lure as in the Perrysburg incidences.
”Adults should never ask children for help,” Blanco said. ”If an adult is asking you for help, something is wrong.”
It’s crucial children avoid compromising situations, Blanco said, even if it means acting rudely toward an adult.
”Don’t worry about hurting their feelings,” she said. ”Hurt their feelings. Who cares?”
McBride agreed. She said once a child is taken to a desolate area with an abductor, the situation becomes more dangerous.
”Once they change locations, the odds go down that the child is going to be able to get out of that situation OK,” she said.
Strength in numbers
Educators throughout the Toledo Public Schools system are stressing to students they should never travel to and from school alone, said Dan Burns, the district’s chief business manager.
”The best thing we can do is get information out and remind kids in our schools and just ask for students to travel together,” he said.
According to results of an April to December 2005 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children analysis of 213 abduction cases, 38 percent of the incidents occurred between 2 and 6 p.m.; 18 percent happened from 6-8:30 a.m.
”Always have someone with you to and from school,” said Toledo police spokesman Sgt. Richard Murphy. ”Don’t make yourself vulnerable to anybody.”
‘Fight for your life’
Sergeant Murphy said children should do everything in their power to not go with an attempted abductor, even if it requires they use violence. He said if they are hurt fighting off an attacker in public they’re more likely to receive assistance from someone who might have witnessed the abduction attempt.
”They gotta fight, scream, yell, run away if they can,” Murphy said. ”Fight for your life because that’s what you’re doing.”
Though McBride agreed fending off an attack with force might be necessary, she said the method should be used as a last resort. She said she would rather have children not be in that situation by simply fleeing the scene if a stranger approaches them.
Communication is key
McBride said Toledo-area parents should use the recent series of attempted abductions as motivation to communicate to their children how they need to act should they find themselves in a compromising situation. She said doing so often makes young people more confident and likely to respond in appropriate ways.
”Don’t use fear as a motivator,” McBride said. ”Kids are already scared. Fear is not very useful. Kids and adults usually become paralyzed when they are scared.”
Communication among families is important because it lets children know they can tell their parents anything, McBride said.
”If you’re not going to communicate and be open,” she said, ”there’s someone who will and that’s the unsavory person that you don’t want.”
For more child abduction prevention tips, visit www.missingkids.com.
Parents or guardians looking for assistance in teaching their children how to identify and react to strangers are encouraged to attend one of the Martial Arts Center’s ”Stranger Danger” seminars.
What: ”Stranger Danger” seminar.
Why: To teach children how to
recognize and respond to strangers.
Who: Children age 3 and up and
parents or guardians.
When: 2 p.m. April 8. A 3:30 p.m.
session will be added if needed.
Where: Martial Arts Center, 7430
W. Central Ave., Sylvania Township.
The seminars are free and open to the public. Parents may register by calling Shelly Blanco at (419) 385-1000. Both sessions are limited to 20 children each.