For many of us, when we hear the word "abduction," scenes from the movie Taken come to mind. While certain things in that movie are accurate in the area of tradecraft, seldom are criminal abductions so filled with mystery and suspense, especially from the perspective of the victim.
Like any other crime prevention issue we discuss, having a plan is essential. But first, here's some background information on the topic.
Hollywood has fashioned our perception of an abduction to involve only "high-value" targets, or persons of wealth. This could not be further from the truth! The rosters of missing persons are filled with ordinary people just like you and me.
While most of us are familiar with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (missingkids.com), many are unaware of the U. S. Department of Justice National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). According to their website, they are a national centralized repository and resource center for missing persons and unidentified decedent records. NamUs is a free online system that can be searched by medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement officials and the general public from all over the country in hopes of resolving these cases.
NamUs is comprised of three databases:
- The Missing Persons Database (findthemissing.org) contains information about missing persons that can be entered by anyone; however before it appears as a case on NamUs, the information is verified. NamUs provides a user with a variety of resources, including the ability to print missing persons posters and receive free biometric collection and testing assistance. Other resources include links to state clearinghouses, medical examiner and coroner offices, law enforcement agencies, victim assistance groups and pertinent legislation.
- The Unidentified Persons Database (identifyus.org) contains information entered by medical examiners and coroners. Unidentified persons are people who have died and whose bodies have not been identified. Anyone can search this database using characteristics such as sex, race, distinct body features and even dental information.
- The UnClaimed Persons Database (claimus.org) contains information about deceased persons who have been identified by name, but for whom no next-of-kin or family member has been identified or located to claim the body for burial or other disposition. Only medical examiners and coroners may enter cases in the unclaimed persons database. However, the database is searchable by the public using a missing person's name and year of birth.
Having a Plan
When I speak to people about K&R (kidnap and ransom) issues, I compare preparedness on this topic to having a fire extinguisher in your home. Of course you have a fire extinguisher at home! Not because you ever plan on having your house catch on fire, but because collective experience tells us that this is the prudent thing to do. So too is having a kidnap plan in place. It can literally mean the difference between life and death.
In regard to personal protection, be aware of your surroundings. If you feel someone is following you, continue walking or driving to the nearest public safety person or facility (police station, security office, fire station or hospital ER). If none of these are available, head to a highly visible, well traveled location. Don't place yourself in a dark, isolated street, parking garage or at home alone.
Three items I recommend people carry (where legal) are a small pepper spray that you can conceal in your palm, a high intensity flashlight with a strobe feature and a personal alarm that emits both an audible alarm and bright flashing light. You can find both the pepper spray and personal alarm for under $10.00 each, either online or in stores.
Also, let someone know your travel itinerary and whereabouts. That way, if you don't show up at a reasonable time, then someone can alert the authorities.
There are free useful apps that you can download on your cell phone, for example bSafe. This application has a variety of personal protection features on it that you can interface with friends and family.
And most importantly, don't place yourself in potentially compromising situations. Two common circumstances that come to mind are accepting an interesting strangers invitation to follow them home, or to come out to their car with them.
Finally, preparing a personal identification kit in the event you are kidnapped can be extremely beneficial to law enforcement in the immediate hours after your disappearance. Let me explain how to prepare one of these kits.
Place the following items in a large envelope:
- a current photo
- a current set of fingerprints
- a copy of your drivers license and passport
- a handwriting sample
- a recording of your voice (on a USB drive or micro cassette)
- a copy of your latest dental x-rays (most dentists will give you a copy from your last exam for free)
- a lock of your hair (for DNA).
Make two of these kits. Place one in a secure location that is accessible 24/7 (not your bank safety deposit box) and give one kit to a trusted person outside of your immediate family. This information can give law enforcement a head start in locating you should you go missing.
Obviously learning self-defense or arming yourself with a firearm are personal choices toward your own safety and security.
Nothing keeps you safer than common sense when it comes to abduction prevention. Whatever you do, don't let the bad guys win!