Bright Side

Why 15 Out of 17 Children Will Go With a Stranger Even If They Know They Shouldn’t

In summer 2019, the search team “Lisa Alert” (an organization similar to Amber Alert) did another social experiment in Saratov, Russia: strangers tried to make children between ages 3-12 leave the playground with them (of course, they asked for their parents’ permission in advance). Out of 17 participants in the experiment, 15 children believed the stranger and only 2 6-year-olds completely refused to leave the playground.

Bright Side wants to remind you that in Great Britain alone, about 0.5 million children go missing every year (and this is more than the entire population of Iceland). And we want to talk about the reasons why this happens.

How children are stolen from populated playgrounds

One of the scariest observations during almost every experiment where children were convinced to go with strangers, is that the people around were completely indifferent. According to the volunteers of “Lisa Alert,” they stole children from playgrounds where there were many people around and not a single adult that noticed what was happening tried to find out what was going on.

The “kidnappers” used phrases that are very popular and should’ve alerted anyone that heard them:

  • “Let me buy you some candy?”
  • “Let’s go feed the pigeons?”
  • “There are squirrels running around. Let’s go see?”
  • “Your father asked me to bring you to him. Let’s go!”

Some of the most effective methods are requests to help some small kittens or puppies. Some criminals often pretend to be policemen, doctors, or firefighters.

The motivation of a kidnapper can be different: usually, they want to harm children or steal them in order to keep them for a long time. This story can end badly in either case, however, there are quite a few stories when, even after 10 years of being held captive, these children grew up, ran away from their kidnappers, and returned home.

One of the rarest reasons is stealing for adoption. The new parents usually have no idea where the baby came from. In this business, there is even a special direction — kidnapping before birth. People steal embryos that are kept in special centers. In the eyes of the law, this theft is equal to stealing a living child.

Even older children leave with strangers.

The chances that a child will go with a stranger increase dramatically if the role of the kidnapper is played by a woman or a teenager. Besides, every person intuitively imagines criminals as men from a horror film: they are tall, angry, and hostile. However, we should explain to our children that even an old lady or a young girl can be a bad person.

The children that took part in the experiment we mentioned before were asked, “Why did you go?” The answers were different:

  • “The lady told me to follow her.”
  • “I knew it was an experiment!”
  • “I thought my mother was waiting for me there.”

This situation seems to be even more disturbing if you consider the fact that the subjects of the experiment actually knew what the possible consequences of going away with a stranger were. All of them had been instructed many times but, apparently, these instructions were useless.

Children need an explanation as to why strangers are dangerous. Because cashiers in shops, neighbors, and other mothers on playgrounds are also strangers. So, the rule “never talk to strangers” is impossible to follow.

One of the ways to solve the problem is by organizing a parent committee. Adults take turns watching over the children.

What may also be helpful is a regular examination of children: ask them what they would do in certain situations. You never know, this training may save their life, just like what happened with 2 American children, ages 8 and 10, in summer of 2019. Brother and sister were sitting in a car and waiting for their grandmother when a young man just jumped on the driver’s seat. The 8-year-old boy reacted instantly: he opened the door and got out, then he grabbed his sister’s hand and helped her get out. The criminal was caught pretty soon afterward.

What prevents a child from just running away?

Another piece of information worth worrying about from the kidnappers is this: even when every victim realizes that they are not going to see any squirrels, they don’t try to run away. And when their parents asked “Why?” the children just said something vague like they were ashamed of screaming or asking for help.

The instructions “scream if you are in danger” seem to mean nothing to children. They have millions of questions: Scream what? How loud? What if nobody hears me? What if they hear me but they still don’t help? One of the possible solutions is practicing loud screams (“Help! I don’t know this man! Stay away from me!”). The point of this practice is to get rid of shame.

Aside from being ashamed, children are usually afraid of looking stupid. Children think about it this way: “What if they mean no harm and I start screaming, I will look like a fool and everyone will laugh at me.” Another important factor to remember is that children are used to following whatever adults say because we actually teach them to do it and teach them to never doubt what we say.

Several recommendations from American experts on the search for missing children

  • Don’t put a tag with a name on your child’s clothes. Children are more likely to believe people who call them by the name.
  • If a child is lost in a huge mall, they should go to any employee of the mall. They shouldn’t go to the parking lot alone in order to try and find you (parking lots are where a lot of children are stolen).
  • If a child has already been stolen, they should know how to give the people around a signal that they are in trouble. In 2007, a kidnapper was transporting a teenage girl by plane. She left a note asking for help in the toilet. When the plane arrived, the police were already waiting for the kidnapper.
  • It’s not recommended for teenagers to hitchhike despite how extremely popular it is.
  • In public places, toilets are especially dangerous. Don’t let children go into the toilet alone, walk them all the way to the toilet and wait for them there.

Tell us in the comment section below if you think your child would go with a stranger if you took part in this type of experiment?

Illustrated by Yekaterina Ragozina for Bright Side