The best strategy for dealing with the horrors that could befall your children is to prevent them from happening in the first place, Pamela Baker-Wilson would tell you.
She is, sadly, all too aware of what can happen when prevention fails.
"I was abducted myself when I was 14, right here in Seattle," Baker-Wilson said in her Skyway office. "I am a victim of molestation. I've been raped. I ran away from home."
Baker-Wilson doesn't mean to be alarmist, but she does want people to know that kids are abducted (by family members and others) and abused (by family members and others). Kids run away, are "thrown away" and are left to fend for themselves in situations that would challenge most adults. She has spent nearly a decade compiling and updating data on all of this, and she has some bad news to report.
"Washington state is in the top 10 nationwide for missing and abducted kids, and there's a lot of them you don't hear about," she said. "The highest [percentage] are forgotten children-runaways and throwaways."
While that is the largest single category of kids in dangerous situations, it's just a small piece of the problem.
Consider the lives of kids abducted by family members, often in what is called, almost euphemistically, "custody disputes."
"Parental abductions are high," Baker-Wilson said. "The kids live on the run, so they live horribly ... Those ones break my heart. They're on the run for years and years."
Baker-Wilson could spend hours rattling off what she knows about child abuse and what can be done to prevent it, and coping with the damage when bad things happen. She has compiled that information into a booklet, which she distributes through her firm, Secure A Kid. The book is full of information on which children are most likely to be victimized through the various categories of abuse (the data is generally arranged by age and gender); who is statistically most likely to commit the abuse; what can be done to prevent it; and what to do when a kid is missing or abused. There is information on law enforcement and social services agencies and tips on getting the most help from them. Local and national information clearinghouses and other resources are listed. Several pages are devoted to the collecting of information on an individual child. There's a fingerprinting kit, places to put photographs and a lock of the child's hair (as a DNA sample) and a page for making a dental record. There are suggestions on what to teach your kids about avoiding dangerous situations and how to thwart the ruses abductors and abusers use to lure their victims.
"Parents will have information and know what to do," Baker-Wilson said. "Even if the school bus is late, sometimes people panic."
Baker-Wilson aims her efforts at people who might not be getting the information elsewhere.
"This booklet is not for everybody," she said. "It's designed to reach a certain population ... out here, so many special-needs families are under-served because of budget cuts. Special needs-I had that community in mind."
So she gets the information to people who, for reasons of fear or pride, might not seek out the help.
"One of my goals is to get this information into the hands of people and, believe me, they use it," Baker-Wilson said. "I'm just trying to provide a little awareness."
She would tell you it's the sort of awareness she and the caring adults in her life should have had when she was a kid, growing up in Rainier Valley.
"My story fits a lot of women," she said. "If Oprah Winfrey can tell her story, I can tell what happened to me."
It was hardly a fairytale childhood, she said. She was sexually exploited starting at age 8. She took comfort in food, ballooning up to 300 pounds, "trying to eat all those bad memories away," as she put it in the introduction to her booklet. (By the looks of her, she weighs less than half that now.)
"I think part of the reason I overate was low self-esteem," she said. "As I got older, I knew it wasn't my fault. I wasn't a bad person. Now I want to know what I can do to help others."
While most kids won't be dealing with what Baker-Wilson faced as a child, too many youngsters still do.
"The need for it is here, that's why I keep going," she said. "Sometimes I feel like I'm all alone, facing a need that's not a high priority, that's not even on the list. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to get peoples' attention ."
Baker-Wilson has three grown children and is now a grandmother. That experience has also influenced what she does today.
"I'm here for them," she said. "If one mother opens this up and says, 'I have to talk to my daughter about this,' I feel like I've made some progress."
Secure A Kid can be reached at 772-0792.