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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two Children Abducted in One Week - How to Prevent Child Abduction

UPDATE ON 10/15/12: 10 year-old Jessica Ridgeway's body has been positively identified. There are no suspects in her case, however, authorities believe her disappearance may be connected to two attempted kidnappings in nearby towns. These "Stranger Danger" incidents occurred just weeks before Ridgeway's murder.

A suspect has been arrested in the case of the 11 year-old Cody, Wyoming girl who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted.

On October 8th, an 11-year-old girl in Cody, Wyoming, was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and released. A few days later 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway is believed to have been abducted and then killed. That’s two high profile, horrifying child abduction stories in one week.

Jessica Ridgeway is still missing, although authorities
have found a body they believe is hers.
Kidnappers know that children are naturally trustworthy and helpful. This is how the Wyoming child abduction case unfolded: the girl was walking around with two friends when a man in an SUV pulled up and said he was having trouble finding his puppy. The girl agreed to help and climbed into the front seat as her friends watched.

Her friends didn’t call police for forty-five minutes. The police issued an Amber Alert – unfortunately, too late to prevent any harm from coming to her. Thankfully, the kidnapper released her after assaulting her and she was found walking down a road just outside the town.

As a martial arts instructor I find this case raises two important questions.

  • Why did the girl get into the car? The girl later told police that her assaulter brandished a pistol at her and ordered her to get in. Assuming this is true, it does not explain why she even approached the car, nor why she didn’t simply turn and run.
    • Key lesson: First of all, we teach our children that unknown adults should only ask other adults for help. Children do not help strangers. Secondly, we teach our children that if someone brandishes a gun, the best thing to do is turn and run, because it’s unlikely the adult will attempt to shoot at you, and even more unlikely that if they did they would hit you. On the other hand, you’re almost guaranteed to be harmed or killed if you’re taken captive by the attacker. Which leads to the third, most important lesson all parents should teach their children about street safety: never get into a stranger’s car
Would your child get into this van?
  • Why didn’t the girl’s friends do anything sooner? The Wyoming girl’s friends should have loudly and vocally dissuaded her from entering the stranger’s car. I would even suggest that they should have attempted to physically restrain her if she insisted – after all in the face of intense peer pressure it’s unlikely she would have entered the car. However, if they could not or did not want to prevent her from entering the car, they should have immediately notified police. Every second counts when a child is kidnapped.
    • Key lesson: We should teach our children to discourage friends from interacting with strangers, and immediately notify police if they witness a kidnapping.
Most child abductions are preventable. Child abductors do not want to be caught, so they will be more inclined to look for an easy target than wrestle with a screaming and kicking one. Unfortunately, when kidnapping victims they realize what’s about to happen, they are often too scared to scream or run. 

If you’re wondering how to prevent child abduction, it’s simple: talk to your children! Reinforce key anti-kidnapping and street safety lessons regularly. If you have access to a reputable martial arts program, enroll. In our Kung Fu children's program we roleplay these scenarios in order to get the children used to identifying kidnappers' tricks.

I encourage all parents to discuss the following 5 questions with their children to reinforce their street smarts:

1. Who is a stranger? (Many children stereotype dangerous strangers as scruffy homeless men, however, the Cody, Wyoming kidnapper is reported to be a clean-cut white male.)

2. If a stranger or someone you don't know well such as the grocery store cashier asks you for help with finding his lost kitten, what would you do?

3. Is it ever okay to get into a stranger's car?

4. What should you do if someone points a gun at you?

5. Who you should call if you see your friend get kidnapped, or you think they've been kidnapped?