With National Missing Children's Day approaching, and days after a New York City girl thwarted a would-be kidnapper, State Senator Shirley L. Huntley (D-Jamaica) today encouraged parents to discuss ways to keep their children from being harmed by predators.
According to the most recent FBI statistics, more than 662,000 children were reported missing in 2005. 58% of them were girls; 33% were African-American. Nearly 17,000 cases were classified by local police agencies as "endangered," meaning the child may have been kidnapped or in the company of a dangerous adult.
"May 25th is National Missing Children's Day," said Senator Huntley. "It's a day to raise awareness about an issue that is all too real for thousands of families across this country. We must double our efforts to not only bring our missing children home, but to keep kids out of harm's way in the first place."
The Queens lawmaker also cited an October 2006 report by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that studied more than 400 attempted abductions nationwide between February 2005 and July 2006. According to the report, 6 in 10 victims successfully foiled their attackers by fighting back, 3 in 10 ran away before any physical contact, and about 10% were saved when an adult nearby intervened.
"While even one child taken by a stranger is one too many, it's important to point out that many more abductions are prevented because adults teach their children to be aware of their surroundings and to seek help if they are in trouble."
Senator Huntley hailed 11-year-old Xochil Garcia of Brooklyn – who fended off a Mother's Day attack by a man who was eight years older, a foot-and-a-half taller, and at least 100 pounds heavier – as an example of how children can protect themselves.
"What an incredible young lady she is!" exclaimed Senator Huntley. "Xochil said that she formulated a plan to put into action should any harm come to her. She rehearsed the plan numerous times in her mind so she knew what to do if the situation presented itself. That plan, and her quick thinking, saved her life."
The diminutive New Yorker was on her way back to her apartment when a 19-year-old man allegedly grabbed her in her apartment stairwell and attempted to take her to the roof. After managing to break free from the suspect's grasp and going for help, Xochil identified the attacker, who was then apprehended by her brother and neighbors.
"When a stranger attempts to grab a child, the young victim often does not know what to do until it is too late," Senator Huntley said. "Parents should sit down with their children and come up with an emergency plan and review that plan often. Families should never assume that what almost happened to Xochil Garcia won't happen to them."
Senator Huntley also said there are three basic tips that parents should teach their kids:
• Be aware of your surroundings: Look around and pay close attention to situations or actions that
would make you feel uncomfortable.
• Make it as difficult as possible for someone to grab you: If someone tries to take you somewhere,
scream for help. Yell "No, Stop! I don't know this person! Someone is trying to take me away!" Get
away from the abductor – kick and punch if you have to – then notify a police officer or another adult.
• If someone follows you on foot or in a car, run to a safe place, like a friend's or neighbor's house or a store.
"It's also important for you to have up-to-date information on your children in the event they go missing," said Senator Huntley. "When a child is abducted, time is of the essence. An updated photo, along with other vital information, gives law enforcement the crucial information they need to find them."
Senator Huntley said the SAFE CHILD Card is one way to have a child's information readily available. These cards contain the child's name; biographical information such as date of birth, gender, height, weight, hair color, and eye color; and a fingerprint image of both index fingers. The card takes less than two minutes to make and can be easily carried in a wallet or pocketbook.
SAFE CHILD Cards are available at 33 law enforcement agencies across the state and during special events. For the nearest locations and latest information, log on to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services website at www.criminaljustice.state.ny.us/pio/ safechild.htm.
"The events surrounding Xochil Garcia's heroic act may have happened in Brooklyn, but it could have taken place anywhere," Senator Huntley said. "Making a plan with your children on how to protect themselves – and practicing it with them often – will give them the confidence to be able to deal with potentially dangerous situations, no matter where they are."