Child abductions: Three tips to keep kids safe

There's growing concern about child safety amid a string of reports of attempted child abductions nationwide.

Already this year, Newshub has counted at least 11 reports of suspected attempts, and 18 since November 2016.

Police have confirmed in the year to February, there have been 92 abductions of people under 19 years old, but only six of those involved an offender that was a stranger.

Former senior police detective Lance Burdett says children's safety now goes far beyond the "stranger danger" methods of the past.

"We used to talk about stranger danger, but that's gone these days because what is a stranger, what does a stranger look like? We know that our kids are getting hurt by people they know."

He says there are three basic rules parents should be telling their kids.

  1. "Don't go with anyone. Never break your routine. Never go with anyone no matter who they are or whatever they offer you. Just stick to your routine."
  2. "If you're a little bit unsure whether you should go or not... Have a code word. That's a word a child knows, it's probably the name of a pet, a favourite toy... The first thing the child asks the person who has come to pick them up is: 'What's my code word?' And so if they don't know that, run.
  3. "Run and make noise. If you get grabbed, start screaming, yelling, never be afraid to punch, kick, bite, spit." Mr Burdett says running around a car is effective. "It's very difficult to catch somebody when you're running around a car."

He says when an issue like the abductions gets media attention it can prompt the biases people carry, and with raised awareness, kids can exaggerate things that are out of the ordinary.

"As a general rule probably a third of them may well be false reports. But one is too many."

Mr Burdett says up to 10 of the reported abduction attempts lately could be genuine, and the offender could be one or two people.

"Often times it's one person, and they predate in an area around where they live and they may go to three, four or five schools.

"There's no set pattern for them. Often times they are abused themselves, as children, so that's the sad part."

Another difference today for people in an abduction attempt situation he says is there are more CCTV cameras.

"We used to teach people to note the registration on the car, note what they wear, instead on focusing on your personal safety. I say focus on your personal safety and let the CCTV cameras pick up everybody else."

It's important to educate kids in context Mr Burdett says, to make sure they are safe without making them paranoid.

Police say the increase in reporting didn't necessarily mean there had been an increase in incidents and parents needed to be "alert, not alarmed".

"While we are not able to currently pinpoint the cause of the increase, historically we do generally notice an increase in reports of this type after increased publicity," police said in a statement.

"Upon thorough investigation by police it is often found that there is no sinister intent to the reports."

Recent reported incidents:

  • November 2016: An 11-year-old boy is abducted and sexually assaulted in Ranui. An 11-year-old girl reportedly flees a man trying to abduct her while she waited for a school bus in Waitakere. A man tries to abduct two 12-year-old boys walking home from school on Swanson Rd, Ranui.
  • December 2016: An intermediate-aged girl is reportedly asked to get in a man's car on Summerland Drive, Henderson. A 17-year-old girl is followed by a dark coloured ute in Henderson. A 14-year-old girl is stalked by two vehicles in Glen Eden, west Auckland.
  • January 2017: Two men in a white van try to abduct a child at Northcote Point.
  • February: A woman, in her mid-20s, is forced into a car in central Auckland. Someone in a white van tries to abduct an 11-year-old Northcote Intermediate student.
  • Late February: An Orewa College student is reportedly followed by a vehicle while walking home. A young female student is reportedly grabbed and pulled into a car in Clendon Park. A man tries to grab an 11-year-old girl on her way to St Heliers School but she flees.
  • March: Another Northcote Intermediate student is reportedly asked to get into a van. An attempted abduction happens on Upper Hutt Primary School grounds.
  • April 10: A man offers a St Dominic's School Pupil $100 to get into his car in Blockhouse Bay.

Police said parents would see extra patrols in the area while they investigated the cases.

"While police take these reports very seriously, it is important to stress that we are still yet to establish the exact nature of these recent incidents," national prevention manager Superintendent Eric Tibbott said.

He also said the notion of "stranger danger" was an outdated concept that police had steered away since the 1980s.

"Child abductions in New Zealand are extremely rare and most of those are custodial related," he said.

Current programmes in schools took a "behaviour-based", rather than "person-based" approach.