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Preventing Stranger Abductions

Unlike other situations where children go missing, stranger abductions are the hardest to predict. A parent may be able to recognize signs that their child may potentially try to run away from home, or a parent may have concerns that a former partner may abduct their child, but stranger abductions are hardest to predict. In these situations, when a child is targeted, there is very little any parent could have done to predict the incident.

Nonetheless, statistics show that there are many more “attempted abductions” than there are actual abductions. Experts believe that, “the fact that so many children have escaped from possibly dangerous situations says that children can, in certain circumstances, safely get away from someone who attempts to lure them and that the need for such skills seems to arise with measurable frequency.” 1 Therefore, by teaching children basic personal safety skills, parents will give them the tools needed to reduce their likelihood of being victimized. Children who learn to be assertive, and how to recognize and respond safely to potentially dangerous situations, are less likely to be targeted by an offender. Additionally, research has shown that there are certain types of situations that make children more vulnerable to a stranger abduction. For example, a Canadian study from 2004 found that:

  • 38% of attempted abductions occur while a child is walking alone to or from school, riding the school bus or riding a bicycle;

  • 37% of attempted abductions occur between the hours of 2:00 PM through 7:00 PM on a weekday;

  • 43% of attempted abductions involve children between the ages of 10 and 14;

  • 72% of attempted abduction victims are female;

  • 68% of attempted abductions involve a suspect driving a vehicle.” 2

Research has shown that individuals attempting to abduct a child will oftentimes try different types of tactics to lure or entice a child to come with them. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States found that the five most common lures used by offenders include:

  • Offering a child a ride;

  • Offering a child candy or sweets;

  • Showing a child an animal;

  • Asking a child for help in finding an animal (such as a lost pet); or

  • Offering a child money or asking a child for directions.3

Keep in mind that using a fear-based approach to teach children safety is ineffective. Building children’s confidence and personal safety competence will help reduce their risk of being targeted by an offender. Children should be taught how to make safe decisions, how to recognize potentially dangerous situations, and to trust their instincts. In order to thrive in life, children need to feel safe and secure in their environments. The following subsections include numerous safety strategies you can teach your child in order to reduce their risk of victimization.

1 Finkelhor et al., The Abduction of Children by Strangers and Nonfamily Members, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1992, Pg. 240.

2 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children news release, Children at Greatest Risk of Abduction When Going To and From School or School-Related Activities, August 18, 2010.

3 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children news release, Children at Greatest Risk of Abduction When Going To and From School or School-Related Activities, August 18, 2010.

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