It’s every parent’s worst nightmare – a child getting lost, vanishing, possibly abducted from the street by a predator. It’s the nightmare faced by the parents of Bung Siriboon, who vanished from a Melbourne street while walking to school in 2011.
With the 10-year anniversary of Bung’s disappearance on 2 June, criminal profiler and investigator Mike King – who investigated the case on the Mapping Evil podcast – gives his top tips for how parents and children can reduce their risk and stay safe from predators when travelling for school.
Top five tips for keeping children safe from predators:
Keeping children safe is the number one concern of every parent and teaching everyone about children’s safety is one of the most important things we can do to reduce the number of children who are victimised each year. Most assaults on children occur from someone who is associated in some way to the child – it is not often the stranger lurking in the shadows – but there are still cases when a child becomes the victim in an opportunistic crime.
Many children travel to and from school by themselves in some way, like Bung Siriboon did, which increases their risk, but there are several ways we can teach and empower our children to protect them from becoming victims of predators:
1. Know the route your child takes to school. Whether they use public transport, cycle or walk, insist that your child stick to the same route every day – no shortcuts and no diversions – without first speaking to you about it. Whenever possible, use the ‘buddy system’ so they always have at least one other person with them. Avoid isolated areas of parks and playgrounds and stay away from people they do not know who are in the area. If something does go wrong, it is easier to look for your child if you know where they begin their route and how they get to the destination.
2. Teach your child to never go anywhere with anyone, or by themselves, without asking you for permission. Sadly, we must teach our children that bad people will act very nice, maybe even offering gifts, toys or money and will lie to trick them, by saying things like, “your mum told me to pick you up” or “can you help me find my lost puppy?” For primary school-aged children, make sure they understand what to do if you are late to pick them up after school – some children will wander off school grounds, particularly if they live close-by and think they can walk home.
3. Consider codewords between you and your children. A codeword or password can be a useful way of stopping someone tricking your child into getting into their car or taking them somewhere. If you genuinely must arrange for a family friend to collect your child, you can give them the family password, so your child knows it is safe to go with them. A family password can also be used at home, to ensure your children won’t open the door to anyone without talking to a parent first, even if they know them. If you do use your password, consider changing it afterward. Only you and your children should know this information.
4. Teach your child basic response techniques. There’s a few basic things children can do if they are traveling to or from school and feel uncomfortable – firstly if a car stops and asks for help or directions do NOT approach the vehicle. If they are being followed or bothered or if they feel unsafe, teach your child to run, scream for help or go to someone’s front door and ask for help. Have them ask the homeowner to call you (the parent), or the police. They should be taught to NOT go inside the home.
5. Teach your children what is appropriate and not appropriate in interactions with their peers and adults. One of the most important things is to empower children to say NO if they are ever uncomfortable in their personal or online interactions with other students, teachers, and other adults. Children need to understand how to recognise, react and report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. As our children mature, they are given more autonomy and with that comes an increased risk of victimisation. Establishing clear rules and consequences for not sticking to them, combined with some of the foundational lessons above, will help reduce the chances of children becoming victims.
About Mike King
Mike King’s contribution to law enforcement has spanned more than four decades and his expertise in the investigation of violent crime is world-renowned. Currently, King is the Global Director of Emergency Communications and Fraud at Esri – and hosts a chart-topping Australian podcast called Mapping Evil.