Abduction Safety Tips
By CWK Network Producer
“There are some real specifics that we need to be teaching our kids so that they understand what they should do in a situation and not limit themselves to just thinking, you know, ‘If I don’t talk to somebody that’s all I need to know,”
-Len Pagano, Safe America Foundation
In the eerily familiar surveillance video, a kidnapper is seen leading an 11-year old girl away from camera view to her ultimate death. Yet, even in the wake of that tragic event, some kids still don’t believe it can happen to them.
“[Kids} think they’re invincible,” says 16-year old Tom.
Fifteen-year old Camy admits, “When I think about abduction I usually think about little kids.”
“Bigger kids … can defend themselves,” 12-year old Hector agrees. “They have more strength.”
But experts counter, “It’s not just an issue for young kids,” says Len Pagano, president of the Safe America Foundation. “I think this issue transcends twelve-, thirteen-, fourteen-year-olds, and the fact is that sometimes the teenage years are the most vulnerable years.”
Kara, 15, agrees. “Sometimes older kids [are targets] because they talk to people on-line and then go meet them.”
Experts say it’s not enough anymore to just tell kids not to talk to strangers.
“I think there are some real specifics that we need to be teaching our kids so that they understand what they should do in a situation and not limit themselves to just thinking, you know, ‘If I don’t talk to somebody that’s all I need to know,” says Pagano.
“To make sure I’m safe wherever I go I stay in groups, I stay with my friends, I always have my cell phone with me,” says 17-year old Ashley.
Rachel says,” I’ve always been taught to, like, make a scene if you’re like in a public place and someone tries to do something just like yell.”
Another idea the experts agree on: kids shouldn’t always defer to adults, especially if they are uncomfortable with the person or when they are around strangers.
“We need to make sure that our teens and young children know when to say no and it’s not appropriate to let an adult intimidate you,” Pagano stresses. “It’s not appropriate to accept adults at face value sometimes. You just can’t expect that every adult is really thinking of your best interest and that’s a hard lesson to learn.”
Luz Cuevas never really believed the story, but the police said it was so. Nearly six years ago, a fire burned down Cuevas’ Pennsylvania home, leading police to believe Cuevas’ 10-day-old girl died in the fire. Cuevas’ two other children made it out safely, but when she went into the baby’s bedroom, little Delimar Vera was nowhere to be found. Eventually, Cuevas ran out of the house after the smoke got too thick for her to breathe and police later concluded that the baby’s remains were consumed in the fire.
In January of this year, Cuevas went to a birthday party for the child of an acquaintance and was struck by the similarities between the six-year-old girl and herself and her other children. Sometime during the party, Cuevas told the girl she had bubblegum in her hair and needed to get it out. Cuevas used the story as an opportunity to take strands of her from the girl for DNA testing, which recently showed that the girl was the missing infant.
Police opened a new investigation and went to arrest Carolyn Correa for kidnapping, arson and concealing the whereabouts of a child, but Correa had already fled, leaving behind three other children. Cuevas told the police that Correa was a distant friend of a cousin of the baby’s father and that she met her a day before the fire. Correa returned to the house on the day of the fire saying she left her purse upstairs. The fire started shortly after she left, and police believe she used the plan to kidnap the infant.
What Parents Need to Know
There may be no greater fear for parents than the thought of their child being abducted. The Danvers (Mass.) police department has developed the following tips for helping prevent child abductions.
- Never assume your child will not be abducted – always act as though it could happen.
- Establish solid communication with your child. Develop open dialogue so he/she can confide in you in case of trouble.
- Never leave young children unattended (at home, in a parked car, shopping cart or in a public restroom).
- Make certain your child knows his/her full name, your name, address and telephone number, including area code. Teach him/her to use the telephone. Help may be available by dialing 911 or “0.”
- Have pictures taken yearly. For preschoolers, pictures should be updated quarterly.
- Keep records of fingerprints, footprints, dental and doctor information, birthmarks and birth certificates. You should keep copies of x-rays, as hospitals do not keep such records for more than a few years.
- Get your child a passport. Once a passport has been issued it is both difficult and suspect to attempt to get another for that person. Contact Passport Services, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Washington, D.C. for a copy of passport procedures.
- Tell babysitters or friends caring for the child not to let your child go with anyone but you.
- Teach your child to avoid people they don’t know.
- Explain to your child that a stranger is someone they do not know, nor do you.
- Teach your child that adults usually do not ask children for directions. If someone should stop in a car asking directions, tell your child not to go to the car.
- Have your child practice the buddy system until he/she is old enough that this system is not necessary.
- Caution your child not to play in deserted places. There is safety in numbers.
- Teach your child the facts of abduction early. If handled simply as another fact of life, children need not be inordinately frightened by the idea of abduction.
- Establish strict procedures regarding who will pick up your child from school and be meticulously consistent.
- Have your school establish a “School Call-Back Program” and visitor check-in policies.
- Teach your child never to go anywhere with anyone who doesn’t know a family “codeword.”
- Make sure that your child does not have his/her name on a visible place such as clothing or belongings. It makes it harder for strangers to be on a first name basis with your child.
- Know as much as possible about your ex-spouse and his/her friends and relatives. Pay attention to threats of stealing the child. Watch for attitude changes and/or unstable behavior in your ex-spouse. Be aware of how a life-style change by you or your spouse might affect him/her.
- Explain to your child that if they are home alone not to open the door for anyone except previously designated persons. This includes a salesperson or delivery person.
- Teach your child never to answer the telephone and tell anyone that he/she is home alone. If someone should call, instruct your child to make a prepared statement such as, “Daddy/Mommy cannot come to the phone right now … can I take a message.”
- Teach older children to come home at dark.
- Remind older children to phone home.
- Know your child’s friends, where they live and their telephone numbers.
- Beware of any adult that showers your child with an inordinate amount of attention and/or presents. No one should care more about your child than you.
- Be aware that a pedophile is usually an adult whose sexual preference is confined to youngsters. The classic pedophile preys on runaways or children from unhappy homes. He showers the child with affection. By the time sexual activity takes place, the child is often an uncomplaining partner and it goes unreported. Be sure to show your child appropriate affection.
- Teach your child that if they are being followed, not to hide behind bushes, but to go where there are people or to a safe house.
- Teach your child that it is appropriate to “make a scene” if he/she senses danger from an adult. Teach him/her to yell “Help!” or “I don’t know you!”, not just scream loudly.