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AUSTIN EDITION Parents #x2013;; be smart, not scared

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

Alison Feigh didn't want to scare people while discussing ways to protect children from exploitation and abduction.

"I want you to feel empowered," Feigh told a crowd of about 70 people Tuesday night in Austin. "Ignorance is more frightening than the facts."

Feigh, a case manager for the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, said the biggest step is for people to become more aware and teach personal safety to kids, just as they do with fire drills or swimming lessons, she said.

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Feigh gave a "Be Smart, Not Scared" speech at Pacelli High School in a community program put on by the foundation and Austin Area Catholic Schools Parent Teacher Communication Association.

The nonprofit group, which seeks to protect children from exploitation and abduction, was founded by Patty and Jerry Wetterling shortly after the 1990 abduction of their 11-year-old son from rural St. Joseph, Minn.

"Jacob created an amazing legacy by being an 11-year-old kid," said Feigh, who was Jacob's friend.

The foundation plays a role in prevention education and victims' assistance. It also is involved in legislation related to sex offenders and victims' rights.

A study found that in 1999 the nation had 115 cases of the stereotypical nonfamily abduction, Feigh said. Those cases have links to the perpetrators doing the abduction for sexual reasons, she said. "(The) odds are greatly in your favor that you'll never have to experience this type of parental nightmare," Feigh said.

However, parents should have their child check with them before accepting a ride or money, as well as before going into someone's home, Feigh said. Parents need to keep a strong communication line with their kids, she said.

Feigh also stressed that parents should teach their children to rely on their gut instincts. If they are uncomfortable in a situation, it's OK to say no, she said. If children sense a dangerous situation, they should scream, run away and tell an adult whom they trust, Feigh said.

Even if the abductor has a weapon, the child should do everything to avoid being taken to another place, Feigh said. If taken to another site, a child's chance of survival decreases greatly, she said.

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There's a very small chance an abductor would use the weapon against a child because the perpetrator wants the child for sexual purposes, she said.

Often an abductor's lure to a child is attention and affection, Feigh said. Parents can take away that lure by reminding their children "how special they are and how valued they are."

BOX: Foundation gives tips to keep children safe

From staff reports

Child safety is the responsibility of everyone, according to the Jacob Wetterling Foundation.

The foundation, which seeks to protect children from sexual exploitation and abduction, has many safety tips for parents, including:

Take responsibility for your child's safety.

Build self-esteem in the child.

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Teach decision-making skills.

Build support systems with positive adult role models.

Choose substitute caregivers carefully.

Never leave young children unattended.

Protect children who are home alone.

Teach children how to use the telephone, such as dialing 911.

Talk with children about abduction as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Use role-playing for "what if" games.

Develop family code words if a child needs to be picked up by someone other than a parent.

Teach your child his or her full name and complete address and phone number, including the area code.

Teach your child that it's all right to "make a scene" if they sense danger.

Agree on a meeting place, such as in a shopping mall.

Have pictures taken four times a year for pre-schoolers and yearly thereafter.

Keep records, such as fingerprints and medical information.

Keep the lines of communication open with teenagers because most abduction and exploitation victims are girls ages 12 to 19.

Tell your children you will never stop looking for them if they are ever taken or lost.

Three tips for child safety regarding the Internet include reporting uncomfortable situations, not giving personal information online and not agreeing to get together with someone met online without getting parental permission.

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