As a society, our efforts to prevent crimes against children have not kept pace with the increasing vulnerability of our youngest citizens. After hearing the tragic stories about abducted or exploited children, most Americans are surprised to learn that many crimes against children CAN BE PREVENTED. The messages in this guide, however, can be different from other safety and prevention instructions you have read.
The most important key to child safety is effective communication with your child. Remember, children who are not listened to or who do not have their needs 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 appropriate manner or in a way that made the child uncomfortable. The simple truth is that children are often too afraid or too confused to report their experiences and their fears. In some ways, you should treat you children as you would 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, but you do NOT need to be afraid. Talk to your child in a calm and reasonable 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"
"Stay away from strangers" is a popular warning to children to prevent abduction or exploitation. Unfortunately, however, many children are abducted or exploited by people who have some type of familiarity with the children but who may not be known to the parents.
The term STRANGER suggests a concept that children do not understand and is one that ignores what we do know about the people who commit crimes against children. It misleads children into believing that they should be aware only of individuals who have an unusual or slovenly appearance. Instead, it is more appropriate to teach our children to be on the lookout for certain kinds of SITUATIONS or ACTIONS rather than certain kinds of individuals.
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 keep special secrets form their parents and, of course, children should not be asked to touch anyone in the bathing suit areas of their body 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 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.
Remember, a clear, calm, and reasonable 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 DO TO PREVENT CHILD ABDUCTION AND EXPLOITATION
BASIC RULES OF SAFETY FOR CHILDREN
As soon as your children can articulate a sentence, they can begin the process of learning how to protect themselves against abduction and exploitation. Children should be taught:
CHILD PROTECTION IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF EVERYONE
Because children cannot look out for themselves, it is our responsibility to look out for them. Every home and school should establish a program that effectively teaches children about safety and protection measures. As a parent, you should take an active interest in your children, and listen to them. Teach you children that they can be assertive in order to protect themselves against abduction and exploitation. And, most important, make your home a place of trust and support that fulfils your child's needs -- so that he or she won't seek love and support from someone else.