To protect ourselves from abductors, we have to know their tactics. The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children conducted a ten year analyses of abduction cases based on 9,872 children and 9,027 offenders involved in 8,015 unique incidents. The study discovered very important patterns regarding the incident timing and location, offenders’ methods, and how children got away from attempted abductions.
Offenders used a variety of methods against children, ranging from manipulative verbal ploys like offers, questions or demands, to the use of overt force like weapons, breaking and entering and threats of violence. Here are the most important findings from the study, followed by what to teach children to improve their safety.
Eight Key Findings From The 10 Year Review
1. Attempted abductions happen most often when a child is going to or from school.
2. The highest risk demographic for abduction are girls between ages 10-14. 67% of children were female and 21 percent were male. Gender was unknown for 12%.
3. Most abductions involve an offender using a vehicle.
4. The street is by far the most common incident location.
5. Offenders primarily used forceful methods against the youngest and oldest children while verbal ploys were the primary approach used against elementary and middle school-age children.
When only verbal ploys were used, children were most likely to get away by ignoring or refusing the offender, using their cell phones to threaten possible adult intervention and/or by actual adult intervention.
When forceful methods were used against children, children most commonly got away from offenders by fighting, screaming/making noise and/or by adult intervention.
6. Of all the things children did to escape, screaming/making noise was the only behavior that increased the likelihood of an offender’s arrest because it specifically increased the chances of adult intervention.
7. 97% of offenders were male, and 3% were female. Children are most commonly victimized by male offenders working alone (87%), followed distantly by males working in same-sex pairs (7%).
When male offenders are involved, older children are most often targeted rather than children that are before school age.
Female offenders are more likely to victimize younger children including infants, toddlers, and elementary school age children.
8. 83% of children who escaped their would-be abductors did something proactive. They walked/ran away, yelled, kicked, or pulled away. This means the best thing a child can do if someone tries to abduct them is take action instead of being passive or polite.
The Most Common Lures Used By Abductors
Children and adults should all be trained in the most common lures used by attackers. Review the following tricks with your children and go over how they should respond to each one. Walk to school with them and point out safe places they can go for help along the way in case of emergency. You can also test your kids once in a while, and ask what they would do in a certain situation.
1. The Offer Trick
The child is offered money, toys, pets, food, or a ride.
2. The Help Trick
The child is asked to help with something such as directions, looking for a lost pet, or carrying something. Most of the time these require the child to get close to the car. This is also a very common lure used on adult women.
3. The Emergency Trick
Someone fakes an emergency and offers to take the child to another location. (E.g. an adult tells the child that their parents have been in a car crash and they to go to the hospital immediately).
4. The Friend Trick
A person tells the child that they have been sent by the child’s parent. Sometimes the person actually does know the parent, and they often know the child's name. This is why many families have a "password", that only the parents and child know.
5. The Bad Kid Trick
Someone accuses the child of doing something wrong and says the child must go with him or her.
6. The Model Trick
Someone compliments the child and asks to take his or her picture, or to put them in a music video. The person may promise the child fame or fortune.
7. The Open The Door Trick
Someone tries to get the child to answer the door when the parents aren’t home.
What To Teach Your Children
Aside from teaching your children how to recognize and respond to the common lures, teach them these essential street safety rules that should always be followed no matter what.
1. Never Enter Anyone's Vehicle
Children must never accept rides or approach anyone's vehicle. Teach your kids to say no firmly, and to always ask permission before accepting a ride from anyone.
2. Stay With A Group
Remind them that they are always safer when walking with a friend or group. The more people around, the greater the risk to the attacker, and the lower the risk for you.
3. Tell The Parents
Encourage your kids to tell you whenever anyone makes them uncomfortable. If anyone tries to lure them to a car, or is verbally or physically inappropriate with them, they should tell you immediately. Make sure kids know they won't get in trouble for talking about this, no matter who it involves.
4. Safe Adults Don't Ask Kids For Help
Adults should ask other adults for help, not children. An adult asking a child for help is itself a red flag. Have your child practice saying “I can’t help you” in in a firm voice and walking away.
5. Safe Adults Don't Contact Children Online
Normal adults don't care to follow, like, comment, or message children on social media or elsewhere online. Safe adults know that this is inappropriate. Any adult that shows interest in a child in this way should not be trusted. Kids should always have a private profile and never accept message requests from people they don't know regardless of age/online appearance.
6. Stay 6 feet Apart From Unknown Adults
After Corona, every child will understand this cue. Teach children to stand at least two arms’ lengths away when interacting with unknown adults. They should never be within grabbing or striking range from an adult they don't know. If they're close enough to reach out and touch you, they're too close.
7. Never Open The Door When Home Alone
Children should not open the door for anyone when parents aren’t home. Any legitimate adult will need to speak to the parents anyways, so there is no use in children opening the door to anybody.
8. Judge Behaviour, Not Relationship
The majority of abductions involve a family member or a person the child already knows. This is why teaching "stranger danger" is insufficient. Instead of teaching kids to beware of strangers, teach kids the behaviours to look out for and the methods abductors use. This way kids can be prepared to act even if the threat is from someone they know and trust. Here are some examples of inappropriate adult behaviour:
Adults who try to befriend a minor on social media, like/comment on their photos, or tries to send them private messages.
Adults who tell a child to keep secrets.
Inappropriate physical contact or words.
Adults who try to get the child to go somewhere with them alone, or try to lure them to their car or house.
Adults who ask children for help.
I want to send a big thank you to NCMEC for their important work which has brought us these critical insights. With these rules, your kids are going to be much better prepared to deal with threats and avoid danger. To learn how to develop better situational awareness, click here. To learn how to present yourself confidently to be perceived as a High Risk Target, click here.
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