As a society, our efforts to prevent crimes against children have not kept pace with the increasing vulnerability of our youngest citizens. After hearing tragic stories about abducted or exploited children, most parents are surprised to learn that many crimes against children can be prevented.
The most important key to child safety is effective communication with your child. Remember, children who do not feel that they are listened to or who do not think that their needs are met in the home are more vulnerable to abduction or exploitation. The first step you should take is to establish an atmosphere in the home in which your child feels truly comfortable in discussing sensitive matters and in relating experiences in which someone may have approached the child in an inappropriate manner or in a way that made the child feel uncomfortable. The simple truth is that children are often too afraid or confused to report their experiences and fears. In some ways, you should treat your children as you do your adult friends — allow them to talk freely about their likes and dislikes, their friends, their true feelings.
Unfortunately, the rising awareness of crimes against children has left many families with a real sense of fear. You and your child need to be careful and aware, but you do not need to be afraid. Talk to your child in a calm and reassuring manner, being careful not to discuss the frightening details of what might happen to a child who does not follow the safety guidelines.
The Exploiter or Abductor: Not a "Stranger"
Children can be raised to be polite and friendly, but it is okay for them to be suspicious of any adult asking for assistance. Children help other children, but there is no need for them to be assisting adults. Children should not be asked to touch anyone in the areas of their body that would be covered by a bathing suit or allow anyone to touch them in those areas.
Often exploiters or abductors initiate a seemingly innocent contact with the victim. They may try to get to know the children and befriend them. They use subtle approaches that both parents and children should be aware of. Children should learn to stay away from individuals in cars or vans; and they should know that it is okay to say no — even to an adult. Since children are often reared to respect authority and never to be a tattletale, parents should explain why the child's personal safety is more important than being polite. Children should also be taught that there will always be someone who can help them.
Remember, a clear, calm, and reassuring message about situations and actions to look out for is easier for a child to understand than a particular profile or image of a "stranger."
What you can to to prevent child abduction and exploitation
Basic rules of safety for children
Children should be taught:
Detecting Sexual Exploitation
Sexual exploitation should not be confused with physical contacts that are true expressions of affection. A warm and healthy relationship can exist if adults respect the child and place reasonable limits on their physical interaction.
Child molesting is often a repeat crime. Many kids are victimized a number of times. The reality of sexual exploitation is that often the child is very confused, uncomfortable, and unwilling to talk about the experience to parents, teachers, or anyone else. But they will talk if you have already established an atmosphere of trust and support in your home, where your child will feel free to talk without fear of accusation, blame, or guilt.
Parents should be alert to these indicators of sexual abuse:
Child protection is the responsibility of everyone
If you would like additional materials on child safety, please write to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Publications Department, Charles B. Wang International Children's Building, 699 Prince Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314 or visit our web site at http://www.missingkids.com/
If you have information about the location of a missing child, please call 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). The TDD line is 1-800-826-7653.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is funded under Cooperative Agreement #98-MC-CX-K002 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view or opinions in this work are those of NCMEC and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® is a registered service mark of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Copyright © 1985 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. All rights reserved.