Feature Archive

Protecting Children From Evil

Can parents prevent kidnappings?

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

Judging by the string of recent abduction cases, protecting your child from becoming the victim of a predator takes a lot more these days than just telling them not to talk to strangers. WebMD talks to experts to find out what's going through a kidnapper's mind and tell parents how they can protect their children.

Although these cases have garnered national headlines, experts are quick to point out that being abducted or killed by a stranger still ranks very low on the list of dangers your child may face. But there are things parents can do to protect their children and make them less likely to fall prey to a criminal.

What Makes a Criminal Tick?

What could make someone do such a thing? That's the question in many people's minds after hearing about children being taken from the safety of their own homes and then found murdered days or weeks later.

For most violent criminals, such as kidnappers, rapists, and murderers, it's all about power, control, and the pursuit of excitement, says Stanton Samenow, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of Inside the Criminal Mind.

"These are people who see humans as objects for conquest and really don't have reciprocal or give-and-take relationships with others. They're loners," says Samenow, who is also a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association. "They want to prevail, no matter what it takes, and they don't think about how it affects others, only about what provides excitement."

Samenow says that for some criminals, overcoming obstacles -- such as taking a child from the safety of their own home rather than a public place -- may even add to their level of excitement.

Experts say child predators generally use one of two possible strategies to achieve their objectives. They either use brute force or speed to snatch a child away or slowly insinuate themselves into the lives of their prey by offering them something, befriending them, and then taking them.

Children can be attractive targets for some criminals because they are more vulnerable, less likely to protect themselves, and the likelihood of total control of the victim is almost completely assured.

But Samenow says he doesn't necessarily believe violent crimes against children are becoming more frequent, although there does seem to be a heightened awareness of the issue in recent months.