Last week The Scotsman published important figures obtained from Police Scotland. A total of 44 offences of child abduction or attempted abduction were recorded by police in 2013 and 2014.
Nearly half the offences were perpetrated by a stranger. A further nine were committed by someone known (but not related) to the victim, and 12 by a family member.
First, well done to The Scotsman for obtaining these data. Scottish law and crime categories on abduction are different to the rest of the UK, making it more difficult to separate counts of child victims from adults.
Now the data has been produced once, this can surely be done again in the future.
The figures echo findings from previous studies by the charity Action Against Abduction.
Police-recorded offences of abduction are a very ‘mixed bag’. They include attempted as well as completed abductions. And they cover a broad spectrum of offences types: parental child abduction (often to a different country), child sexual exploitation, offences involving revenge or quarrels, and stranger sexual abuse.
Whilst 44 in two years – nearly two a month – might sound a lot, it is unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg.
Many cases are simply not reported to the police. Others are not recorded as crimes. The gap between police data on abduction and what children disclose in surveys is enormous. And based on these figures the gap appears to be particularly wide in Scotland.
The rate of abduction offences in Scotland is just a fraction of that recorded in other parts of the UK, where more than 1,000 offences were recorded in a single year.
For many people, it is the relatively high numbers of stranger abductions that is most troubling.
Whilst abduction leading to very serious crime is rare, the figures highlight the need for parents and teachers to ensure that children know how to avoid dangerous situations.
Of course, that means staying safe when online. And understanding the threat of grooming.
But it also means knowing how to respond to the ‘old-fashioned’ dangers of being lured into a car or a secluded area.
This is still commonly referred to as ‘Stranger Danger’. Yet our research has shown that simply warning children away from any contact with strangers is a poor strategy. We urgently need a new approach to ‘Stranger Danger’, new teaching materials and new practical advice that helps parents broach this difficult topic with their children.
To help Action Against Abduction please visit http://www.actionagainstabduction.org/make-a-donation/
Geoff Newiss is Director of Research at charity Action Against Abduction
Action Against Abduction runs the UK Child Abduction Hub – a central point of information and advice on abduction. The Hub is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.