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10:49 AM Fri, Nov. 16th

Most child abductions not by strangers

PRESCOTT – Friends and family members are often responsible for the abduction or kidnapping of children – not strangers.

Since 1999, the Prescott Police Department has handled six cases of child abduction or kidnapping. In four of the six cases, a family member or friend abducted the juvenile. Only two cases involved an unknown kidnapper.

Louise Jackson, division chief of the Victim Witness Division of the Yavapai County Attorney's Office, said that she has been working with crime victims for 13 years.

"I couldn't remember an abduction that our office handled that was by a stranger," she said. "In reality, that isn't going to happen often."

Jackson said that parents should be aware of the relationships that their children are developing. She added that there are sometimes warning signs that parents should be aware. That awareness could help keep children from becoming victims.

"We need to educate our kids to talk about what happens in the family," she said. "It makes it harder for kids to divulge (information) when it's someone that mom loves and trusts."

Parents should teach older children to trust their instincts, she said.

"If they have a gut reaction that they shouldn't go … they shouldn't go," she said.

For younger children, parents should set rules about going anywhere, with anyone – including friends and family members – without permission.

"You've just got to put up some more systems," she said. "Because they wouldn't be scared of going with a person they love."

She said that children should know several basic things to stay safe. They should know their full name, address and phone number, how to use a phone to make a long distance or operator-assisted call and to yell "NO" and create a scene if someone victimizes them.

Children should know not to leave without permission and not to answer the door or tell anyone over the phone that they are home alone.

Parents should also provide a list of people who may pick up children to school officials.

Jackson stressed that education and communication are the best tools parents have to keep their children safe.

Yavapai County Family Advocacy Center Director Kathy McLaughlin said that if someone does abduct a child, the parents should do several things immediately.

She said parents should call the authorities as soon as they become aware of the situation.

"Immediately report it," she said. "Call 911."

She added that it is very important that parents always know where their children are, in case something happens to them.

"There's a much better chance of solving the case if we know where the crime scene is," she said.

Parents need to take some important steps if authorities find an abducted child, McLaughlin said.

"When you reunite that child with the parent, what we try to do is heavily insert the therapeutic help," she said.

If no one recommends therapy for the child or for the parent, McLaughlin strongly urges the parents to seek it for themselves.

She also said parents can get more information about how to talk to children about abduction at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Web site. The address is www.missingkids.com

Contact C. Murphy Hébert at mhebert@prescottaz.com