WTVM Special Report: Teach kids to be aware, vigilant to prevent abduction

WTVM Special Report: Teach kids to be aware, vigilant to prevent abduction

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) – When we imagine the horrible scenario of a child being kidnapped, we usually think it would be at the hands of a stranger.

However, your child actually has a greater chance of being struck by lightning or having a heart attack than being taken by a stranger. Most often, it is someone that the child knows.

Inside the Columbus Karate Academy, you can hear children screaming, but for good reason.

These children are learning self-defense and how to protect themselves in a host of dangerous situations, including "Stranger Danger."  
Classes like these help teach kids how to react to a stranger and how to fight back should someone grab them.

The self-defense instructor pretends to be a stranger. Five-year-old Will Carr participated in the scenario and let the "stranger" get a little too close for comfort.  It took almost 30 seconds before Will decided to run away and scream.

"We've talked about strangers but nothing this in-depth, and it brings to our attention that we need to because he didn't even scream and he was letting him get really close," said Will's mom.

One point that's hammered home in this self-defense class at Columbus Karate Academy is to run away quickly and scream loudly.

"Don't talk to strangers and if someone tries to talk to you, you yell and scream, 'I don't know you.'"

While stranger danger is and should be a concern for parents and kids, safety experts say what's even more startling are the real facts about child abductions.

"Most people think of an abduction as a strange person coming up to your child and snatching them off the street and you know, those types of abductions don't really occur that often," said Ju'Riese Colon, the Executive Director of External Affairs at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The last comprehensive study on stranger kidnappings put the number at 115 a year, less than one percent of all reported abductions. In fact, the data shows that children are usually taken by a family member or someone they know.

That scenario played out a few months ago in Bullock County Ala. when police say a father, along with his sister and mother, kidnapped his 5-year old daughter from Union Springs Elementary.

The trio was pulled over more than a week later in South Carolina on their way to North Carolina where the father lived. The child's mother was relieved to have her back home and safe.

"I'm hoping that they learn from the situation and that we can move on past this and that me and my baby, we can just be happy because I'm just over the whole situation," said Vanessa Douglas, mother of the kidnapping victim.

FBI analysis shows children age 3 years and younger of unwed or divorced parents are most at risk of being abducted by their non-custodial parent, either in retaliation for a relationship that ended or to inflict pain.

Experts say it's important to talk to your children about safety and suggest things like having a code word that even family members should know before agreeing to go with them.

That's a secret word shared between custodial parents and their children so the kids know the person trying to pick them up is on the up and up.

"We don't have a code word as of yet, but that's a good idea," said Columbus mom Marilyn Kelly. 
"But he knows, and people that he don't know and people that he do know."

"He knows don't talk to nobody you don't know, don't go with nobody you don't know if anybody approaches you, you don't know you better run," said Columbus mom Katina Dehaven. "So we've had these talks since he was three."

It's an important talk to have when it comes to strangers and even the people your children are familiar with, preparing kids at a young age to respond to any situation could save their lives.

"Majority of children who get away, do so because they did something proactive. They yelled, they screamed, they kicked, they drew attention to themselves and were essentially responsible for their own escape," said Colon.

Experts offer these suggestions to help keep children safe: Custodial parents should inform schools, after-care facilities, babysitters, and others who may at times be responsible for their children about what custody agreements are in place so that kids are not mistakenly released to non-custodial parents.

Join the conversation on social media - use the #AbductionPrevention. 

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