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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Safety Tip Tuesday: Child Safety vs. "Stranger Danger"

“Stranger Danger” has long been the unofficial slogan for child safety education. The go-to buzz phrase referrers to parents and professionals trying to educate children about the dangers involving abduction and sexual abuse. As well-intended and catchy as the slogan is, it is rather old school, and not in a cool retro hipster way either. The term itself is dated, elicits misconceptions and is a dire over-simplification of interpersonal safety.

The reality is that children are much more likely to be victimized by someone they know and trust. Statistics show: 

Abduction*

  • Approximately 800,000 children younger than 18 are reported missing annually.
  • More than 200,000 children were abducted by family members.
  • More than 58,000 children were abducted by non-family members.
  • An estimated 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” or “stranger” kidnapping.
  • More than 350,000 children were reported as runaways/throwaways

Sexual Abuse**

  • An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, childcare providers, neighbors.
  • About 30% of perpetrators are family members, e.g., fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins.
  • Just 10% of perpetrators are strangers to the child.
  • Not all perpetrators are adults - an estimated 23% of reported cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by individuals under the age of 18.

These statistics affirm that those who victimize children are not strangers to the child, they are most often known by the victim. The abductors and offenders are not dirty, menacing strangers; they are respectable citizens – parents, teachers, coaches, police officers.  The perpetrators are often people with frequent and legitimate access to the child, and may even be someone the child initially trust and likes.

So what can parents do? First, communicate with your children and empower them. Reinforce positive messages and safety skills that will not only build a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence, but also help keep them safer. Teach your children to recognize and avoid potentially dangerous situations. Encourage children to trust their instincts (that gut feeling)and provide them with steps they can take to remove themselves from these situations, and who they can turn to for help.

Next, play the “what if” game and make safety lessons part of everyday life. You can do it anywhere with children of all ages (heck, I even use it with my wife sometimes). Whether it is checking first with a trusted adult, using the “buddy system,” or avoiding and getting out of potentially dangerous situations, turn these scenarios into “what ifs” that you can practice with your children to make sure they understand and “get it.” Turn outings to a mall or the park a “teachable moment” to make sure your children understand the safety lessons and are able to use them in real-life situations. This method will also reassure your children that you are there for them, and remind them that there are other good people (firemen, mothers with children) who also are able to help them. This opportunity affords children chance to test their skills while in a safe setting.

In short, children do not need to be scared straight or told the world is a horrible place. They need to be told that you love them, trust them, believe them and that if anyone ever touches them or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way, they should tell you or a trusted adult. Because truth be told, the majority of adults in a child’s life are good people. After all, we all turn to strangers for help every time we call 9-1-1.

Safety Tip Tuesday (#CQISTT) is a weekly post that addresses child safety, ideas, concepts and fundamental approaches that help protect children from kidnapping, abuse and exploitation. Sign-up to follow this blog and receive updates. Written by Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International. 

*Statistic Source: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)
** Statistic Source: http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx

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