Children and self-defense

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Children and self-defense

At the beginning of February 2004, television viewers in the United States were horrified by the surveillance-camera video of 11-year-old-Carlie Brucia being kidnapped in Florida, and the subsequent discovery of her body. After the event – one of roughly 100 kidnappings and murders of children that take place in the United States each year – several people called us wanting advice on how to teach children self-defense.

Wanting to teach children self-defense – as well as general parental terror – is a natural reaction after such a tragic event. It is telling, however, that the most authoritative source on missing children, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, emphasizes a large number of measures for dealing with this issue, none involving self-defense. We feel this makes sense for a wide variety of reasons.

For a start, most children who go missing are runaways, so the issue of self- defense does not come up. In the next largest group, family abductions, self- defense by a child in a custodial battle is probably not be the most appropriate response. It is only in the case of acquaintance kidnapping (don’t confuse acquaintance with friend) and stranger kidnapping – particularly retrospectively to that 100 that end with homicide – that self defense might play a valid part. The question then becomes whether, for an event that is extremely rare, you want to change the quality of your child’s life by instilling a fear of being kidnapped while teaching her self-defense. On the other hand, adding preventive measures to the child’s repertoire might further reduce the probability of abduction, without terrorizing the child. As authors of the leading book for civilians on dealing with violence (The Seven Steps to Personal Safety, we believe that adding preventive measures is the most appropriate approach.

There is also the issue that self-defense may well involve the injury or death of the attacker. Frankly, we are not sure that we want to empower or encourage children to injure or kill others. Nor are we convinced that it is necessary since there are, even in abductions, some alternatives available.

The non-self-defense options are largely based on the fact that for the child, as the victim, being taken from a public place to a more secluded place is not in her best interest. This is particularly true in those hundred cases a year where the kidnapped child will be murdered, as there is, on average in three out of four cases, a scant three-hour window between time of abduction and the time of death.

Because of this, it is important for the child to try not to go with the abductor. This is true even for a juvenile, where the abductor has a gun and is threatening to use it if the victim doesn’t go with the perpetrator. As with an adult, the chances of harm are so high in this case that it is safer to risk being shot in public than to get into the car.

What can be done to deter the abductor? Two things. The first is to increase risk for the abductor, which is generally done by making a lot of noise. To passers-by, the image of a child quietly getting into a car is very different than if the child is screaming “Help me, help me!’ as someone attempts to force her into a car. The issue here is that if you do not train to make a lot of noise you simply won’t make a lot of noise. We have learned from long experience that you must train to yell and scream under stress.

The second thing that can be done is to make it difficult to be taken. There are three possible versions of this. One is to simply go limp, while yelling and screaming. Depending on the size of the child (and this author knows some eleven-year-olds who are good sized!) this will make it virtually impossible to be dragged away, especially with nobody noticing. The second variation is to thrash about while yelling and screaming, which can work for a smaller child. Finally, if it is possible to break away for a moment, rolling under a parked car while yelling and screaming can make it extremely difficult for someone to do an un-noticed abduction.

We would hope that every concerned parent would look at the material on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and take the time to learn about the problem and ways to keep their children safe. By taking appropriate precautions, you can greatly reduce the already-slim likelihood of your child being abducted.

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