In our last two related posts, we wrote about ways you can take precautions to protect your child from sexual predators who are related to the child – either by blood or marriage or are acquaintances to you or your child. In this third and final article of this three part series, we will discuss protecting your children from sexual predators that are strangers.
In the 1960s, the term “stranger danger” was created by law enforcement to be used as a slogan during part of a campaign to alert children to risks posted by adults they did not know. This was in response to a rising number of missing children and child abductions. During the 1970’s, the number of stranger abductions increased, leading law enforcement officials to focus on the reasons for the abductions – over time, this became known as profiling. During the profiling stage, law enforcement looks at the victim’s behavior, location, relationships with others and more to get a sense of why they were targeted. This type of investigation began to reveal that there was often a sexual component to these abductions.
Today, even with all that we know, strangers continue to use a wide variety of methods to abduct our children for sexual abuse. Here is a recent story.
The National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) Missing Person File was implemented in 1975 and is maintained by the FBI. Working in conjunction is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), founded in 1984 by the Walsh family after the abduction of their son, Adam. Adam’s story became headline news but it was just one of many horrible cases across the United States at that time. Although law enforcement has worked hard to help parents become aware of the dangers to children, the statistics are still staggering.
In 2016, the NCMEC reports that 465,676 children were reported missing. Most of those were cleared throughout the year, leaving nearly 89,000 left unresolved. During this same time, the NCMEC received over 8 million tips to its CyberTipline. Most of these related to child sexual abuse images, online enticement – or “sextortion”, child sex trafficking and child sexual molestation.
This data shows that our children are still at risk from predators. Not only are they at risk for abduction by sexual predators, they are at risk by strangers on the Internet more than ever. Physical abductions are rare and nothing to become paranoid about, however, there are some things we can weave into our daily lives to ensure that our children are safe. To learn these, the NCMEC and the FBI compiled trends over the past 10 years.
- FACT: 70 percent of attempted abductions involved the suspect driving a vehicle.
- FACT: Nearly 35 percent occurred between 2:00-7:00 pm; the time frame when children are out of school and are least likely to be supervised and over 30 percent of attempted abductions happened when the child was going to and from school or school related activity.
- FACT: 37 percent of the children are between the age of 10-14 years old.
There are a number of things a parent can do to protect their child. Here are a few helpful tips and links from NCMEC.
Protecting our children from sexual predators does not stop with their physical protection. It has become even more difficult with today’s technology because predators use social media, applications, phones and other methods online to prey on our children. They understand that children are vulnerable. They know that teens become disillusioned with school, parents and friends. They use this information – easily found on most kids social media page – to “buddy up” to our children. Our children find it easy to communicate personal details online.
Here are some tips that are recommended by the FBI and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
- Always monitor your child’s internet and phone activity. Know the child’s passwords and use them. While some parents believe this is an invasion of the child’s privacy, this is the only way you truly know who your child is communicating with online. There are a number of great software solutions to help in this task. (Best Parental Control Software of 2017)
- If your child begins to speak of a new online friend that you have never met, probe for details. Learn what you can about the person from your child so that you can meet him or her or report them if you need to do so.
- Always keep lines of communication between you and your child open. Let your child know that he or she can tell you anything and that if an adult has made them feel uncomfortable, it is safe for them to share it with you.
- Explain to your child that sharing personal details online is like opening up his or her personal journal to the entire world. That may not be what he or she intends to do, but ultimately it is.
- Stay in contact and communicate with the other parent. Particularly when a family has been separated, this may prove challenging. Parents don’t always get along and aren’t always the best of friends after a separation. For your child’s sake, make sure that you and the other parent are aware of the time your child is spending online or on the cell phone. Be sure you are talking about suspicions, issues and changes in your child’s behavior.
- If your child is a victim of online sexual abuse, seek help. He or she will need to speak with someone professionally.
If you have a child who visits another parent regularly, and you believe your child is at risk, please contact our office. Depending on the situation and the court order, it may be possible to revisit the parenting schedule to assure the child’s safety.