Protecting Our Children

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with tribes across this nation. Traveling from tribe to tribe and speaking with community members, tribal leaders and others, I am often asked what I see as the greatest threats that expose Native children to the risks of abduction and victimization. I always tell people that the greatest threat is waiting for someone else to do something. It’s not the internet, it’s not drugs, bad parents or understaffed police departments.

The greatest threat is when we as parents, community members or tribal leaders wait for someone else to act, for someone else to take the first step towards bringing the resources we need to the community, training community members and first responders and educating our children on how to protect themselves.

At one recent meeting someone asked me about “stranger danger” and what threat children in her tribe faced from predators. This question got me thinking about how we are often afraid to accept the fact that those who pose the greatest risk to our children, are often very close by. They are often part of our own community or circle of family, friends and acquaintances.

This conversation reminded me of a study conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the FBI where they looked at offenders who abducted children and sexual predators who molested children, although they didn’t abduct the child. In that study 66 percent of abducting child molesters and 80 percent of non-abducting child molesters were known to their victims. That means that in at least two thirds of the cases the perpetrator was known to the child, or his or her family!

We cannot rely on stereotypes or a false sense of security when it comes to the predators who would take our children from us. To effectively prevent, identify and apprehend predators, we must have a clear understanding of offender dynamics, their motivations and how they operate. Unlike many who lives in cities and urban areas, we don’t have the resources to rely solely on law enforcement it takes the entire community.

The lesson from this and other similar studies is that while we obviously need to teach our children to be cautious around people they do not know, we also have to talk to them about their personal safety around people they are acquainted with. We have to teach them to communicate with us, to never be afraid to tell us when something or someone feels wrong. To trust their instincts. Children should recognize that "strangers" often do not look strange, and parents should recognize that most abductions and assaults involve an offender and victim who know each other.

We may not like to think about the fact that the person who could take or harm our child is very likely to come from within our community, but we have to be alert to the dangers our children face, and to be prepared to protect them from victimization.

Have you asked yourself if your community is prepared to respond to the abduction of a child in the community?  Have you talked to tribal leaders, law enforcement and others about what types of policies, plans and resources are in place? Each of us has to be proactive and supportive of the tribe’s efforts to prevent, prepare for and respond to the abduction of our children.

Tribal leaders must understand and support the goals of improving the ability of the community to respond to and address these threats to the safety of the community’s children. Effective council resolutions, ordinances and tribal code/laws are essential. Our tribal leaders must be willing to seek out funding, resources and partnerships to improve our capabilities to protect children.

The resources are out there. A number of tribes have implemented very effective programs to protect children. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (the office that provides funding for this page) provides access to training, technical assistance and resources for tribes at no cost. We must realize, however, that all of those resources are worthless, if we do not seek them out and put them to use in our community.  

If you want to know more about what you can do, send a message through the ‘Contact Us’ button on this website,  and ask for assistance with determining what can be done in your community. Our AMBER Alert tribal liaisons will work with you to take that first step, so that you can lead the way in protecting our children.

Jim Walters, Program Administrator
AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program