Having your child abducted is every parent’s worst nightmare! Of the 466,949 children that went missing last year, 32,687 were kidnapped by a family member, 9,338 were kidnapped by non-family member, and about 100 were abducted by strangers (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2015, NISMART 2003).
These numbers alone should give us pause, at the same time remembering that a more insidious form of abduction is child sexual abuse that steals the child’s self esteem and truncates their childhood. In our clinic, that evaluates both child sexual abuse as well as child sexual assault, only 15% of all children are assaulted by strangers. The vast majority of perpetrators are known to the child and many are part of the extended or nuclear family.
Young children (0-10) are the most vulnerable for abuse and/abduction. We begin this series with some simple ideas on protecting your young child from strangers but we will also focus attention on learning to protect your child from individuals who your child sees everyday but who may also present a real danger. Understanding how children are abused, what signs and symptoms are warning signs for parents that should remind them that their child is at risk. Parents are the critical foundation in protection through communication and through understanding how children disclose abuse or frightening events. Teaching your child to stay safe and make good decisions must begin by sharing knowledge and communicating with your child at an early age. Families can establish habits of protection and behavior that will extend through the dangerous “tween” years (9-12) into high school and college.
These ‘tween’ years have become increasing dangerous particularly for our girls. With more girls going through puberty at younger ages, we are faced with the challenge of having young children in woman’s bodies without the maturity to make safe choices. In addition, we consider them to be “just kids” and delay providing them with the information they need to stay safe. These young women are a particularly tempting target for all sexual predators; the stranger; the acquaintance as well as the family member or friend. Much of the child pornography that I am asked to review for the FBI and local law enforcement involves children between the ages of 9 and 12. Add to the fact that we are constantly bombarded with the media, children of all ages are increasingly vulnerable and available to predators through social media. Understanding the real risk of web-based searching for children as potential sexual victims, is critical in building a system of protection within the home.
Adolescents and college students have an amazing capacity to see themselves as “bullet-proof.” We need to give our adolescents and beyond, enough common sense to keep them safe when they are exposed to a world that does not value their innocence or their lives.
The goal of this series is not to alarm parents or create an atmosphere of danger lurking behind every bush or to change a carefree happy childhood into one of fear and dread. Quite the contrary, the goal is to help parents develop simple rules; apply them in a matter-of-fact “we love you” attitude that builds an open atmosphere of sharing and communication in every home. The end result will be that children will be safer while families are drawn closer and closer to each other. The best tribute to those children who are victims of abuse and assault, is for us build a living memorial through strong, loving and safe homes and communities.