Missing Persons Clearinghouse
The Exploiter or Abductor
Not Necessarily a "Stranger"
"Stay away from strangers" is a popular warning to children to prevent abduction or exploitation. However, most children are abducted or exploited by people who have some type of familiarity with the children, but who may or may not be known to the parents.
The term "stranger" suggests a concept that many children do not understand.
- Strangers are not necessarily "strange looking."
Also, it 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 they identify as strangers (e.g., only people who have an unusual or sloppy appearance).
Instead, it is more appropriate to teach children to:
- Be cautious of certain kinds of situations or actions, rather than certain kinds of individuals.
- Follow routine safety procedures which are universally protective.
Children can be raised to be polite and friendly, but it is okay for them to be suspicious of any adult who asks for assistance.
- Children help other children, but there is generally no need for them to be assisting adults.
Often exploiters or abductors initiate seemingly innocent contact with the victim. They use subtle approaches that both parents and children should be aware of.
- They may try to get to know the children and befriend them.
- They may befriend the parent(s) to get close to the child(ren).
A clear, calm and reasonable message about safety, including situations and actions to look out for, is easier for a child to understand than a particular profile or image of a "stranger."