Question of the Week

February 9, 2004


The videotape of an eleven-year-old being led away in Florida has recently made national news, as has the tragic end to her story.

"Stranger abductions fill parents' [and kids'] minds with worry, but the reality is that 75% of all child abductions are perpetrated by a family member or acquaintance. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that half of all abducted children are taken by a family member, 25% are taken by an acquaintance...and 25% are abducted by strangers."

What are "family abductions"? What does that mean?

Family abductions are those "in which a family member was trying to deprive a caretaker of custodial rights.
-- 98% of these children were located or returned home.
-- None of these children were killed."

When broken down into more detail, of all the children involved in non-family abductions, less than half were taken by strangers.

"Stranger - 45%
Acquaintance - 21%
Friend - 17%
Authority Person - 6%
Neighbor - 5%
Caretaker or Babysitter - 4%
Someone Else - 3%"

Being aware of "stranger danger" is important, but so is just being aware.

"There were approximately 58,200 'non-family abductions' in 1999. Abductions in this category involved forcibly moving or detaining the child for a relatively short period of time, usually in connection with another crime.
-- 99% of these children returned home.
-- Only 115 of these were the most serious and dangerous types of abductions � those perpetrated by strangers where the child was kept overnight, held for ransom, or killed.
-- Almost 60% of these children were returned safely."

The statistics are in your favor. It is important to be aware, but not necessary to be paranoid. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of the situation. Is something about it not right? If you are not comfortable going with a person (even one you know), if they ask you not to tell your parents (or say that your parents already know), then talk to your parents (or another trusted adult like a teacher or principal). Share your concerns. Don't be afraid of hurting someone's feelings; you want to make sure that you are safe. Anyone asking you to go with them for a legitimate reason will understand the need to check things out at home first. And if the situation has you feeling uneasy, you are never too old to talk to your parents (or other trusted adult) about something that gives you the creeps.

Many people think of elementary school kids when they think of child abductions. Truth is:

"Teenage girls are the group at greatest risk for non-family abduction. Two-thirds or more of abduction victims were female, and a majority were
adolescents, ages 12 through 17...."

That doesn't mean that this is just for older kids, or just for girls (if two-thirds of the victims are female, there are still one-third that are male); and there is still some risk for younger children, but those risks increase, rather than decrease, as you enter your teen years.
Children ages 0-5 made up 7% of non-family child abductions.
Children ages 6-11 made up 12% of non-family child abductions.
Teens and preteens ages 12-14 made up 22% of non-family child abductions.
Teens ages 15-17 made up 59% of non-family child abductions.

You've heard about "stranger danger" your entire life. For as long as you can remember, parents and teachers have told you not to talk to strangers, and what you should do if a stranger talks to you.

Questions of the Week:
Now that you're older, what can you do differently to keep yourself safe? What practices that you learned as a kid are still appropriate and wise to continue? What other things can you do to possibly avoid getting into bad situations? Since not everything is 100% avoidable, what can you do if a stranger--or someone you know--puts you in an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation? How can you continue (or begin) being careful and aware without becoming paranoid?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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