Dear Teresa: As a mother of two young children, my heart goes out to the parents of several abducted children highlighted in the news lately. I wish I could do more to protect my own children. Any suggestions?
Signed, A.M., Vancouver, BC
Teresa: I am equally horrified at the recent rash of child abductions and attempted child abductions. Last year alone over 19,000 children went missing in BC. This accounts for nearly one third of the missing in children in the country. In order to protect our youth, we all need to take action. Here is a list of tips and facts we need to know in order to keep our kids safe:
- Though we have been hearing terrifying accounts of random attacks on children and teens, over 90% of the time sexual predators prey on children they have access to. In other words, children they live near, work or visit with. It is a misconception that a bad guy is always a stranger. Predators often engage in what is referred to as a grooming process to establish trust in children. We need to teach kids that no one has the right to ask them to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. Tell them this includes getting into a car, entering a home, or asking to see or touch private parts of their body even if they know them.
- Familiarize yourself with your neighbours and their vehicles. If you happen to see a person or a car you dont recognize, take note and report any behavior that looks suspicious.
- Know where your kids are at all times. Know your childrens friends, their families as well as the addresses of their homes.
- Encourage kids to hang out or play in groups. Kids are safer when they are not alone.
- Empower your children to speak their minds. Raising kids to always listen to authority figures without being able to question or voice their opinions, paves the way for them to be vulnerable targets. Children need to know it is OK to say no to an adult.
- Have a family code word. If you cant pick your child up from school and someone else must do it, notify the school and teach your child a code word that proves they have your permission to drive them home. Let your children know you would never send someone they dont know or without notifying the school. Practice using the code word every time, even if it seems silly. It helps engrain this process in their minds so it sticks out if someone doesnt know it. This way no one may approach your child with a story like your mom said she wanted me to drive you home. The child will say, whats the code word?
- Make sure your child knows their full name and telephone number.<
- Teach children tricks that people may play to lure kids. Kids need to know someone may pretend to look for a lost puppy, or be lost themselves.
- Teach your children some basic self defense moves. Several forms of martial arts and self defense courses will teach these moves. Check into your local community centers to see if you can take one together.
- If you see a child in a public place unaccompanied by an adult, look around for a parent. Keep an eye out for that child.
- If you are certain your child is missing, call 911 immediately. Most calls are made two hours into the childs disappearance. The first three hours a child is missing is crucial to getting them back safely since over 74% of the time an abducted child is murdered it is within the first three hours they are taken.
- Write a letter to support your local city police or RCMP detachment in securing government funding for education and alert programs to protect our children. Many police officers are currently volunteering their personal time on Task Forces working with Child Find Canada to protect children from abductions. They need funding in order to get programs like the American Amber Alert up and running sooner than later. Amber Alert, which was started in 1996 in memory of a 9 year old girl who was abducted and murdered, allows information of a child abduction to be immediately dispatched to local radio and TV stations. The media then puts out an alert to inform the public every 15 minutes of pertinent details like a description of the suspect or a car that may lead to the safe return of the child. This program is credited with saving the two teenaged California girls, who were abducted at gun point in early August. Motorists on the highway called in details after hearing the alert enabling police to close in on the suspect. We need this program. We can all help keep our children safe by writing letters of support to local police that they may forward to Victoria.