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Carmel Valley Kids Safety Forum

Last week the lobby of Cathedral Catholic High’s Guadalupe Theater was filled with large posters of missing children. Some of the faces, unfortunately, are well known, the ones we know who never came home like Chelsea King and Amber Dubois.

“San Diego has known too much tragedy. There are too many names etched into the hearts and minds of San Diego,” said Ernie Allen, co-founder of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children

Allen was a distinguished guest at Cathedral Catholic High’s Keep Kids Safe town hall forum on Jan. 30. The town hall presented an impressive gathering of authentic voices, advocates and experts on child exploitation, including kidnapping survivors Jessyca Mullenberg Christianson and Alicia Kozakiewicz, as well as Erin Runnion, the mother of 5-year-old Samantha Runnion who was kidnapped and murdered in 2002.

The forum topics and conversation were difficult to hear, but ultimately very important. The event was presented in partnership with The Chadwick Center for Children and Families at Rady Children’s Hospital. Cathedral Catholic senior James Morris and Bishop’s School student Mason Church, both young advocates for missing children, were also key in organizing the event. The panel members were available as they were in San Diego last week participating in the San Diego International Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment.

Allen said more missing kids are coming home safely in America than any other time—the law enforcement community is better prepared, laws are better, the technology is better and the public is more alert and aware. However, thousands of children are still being victimized in the country. Allen said there are currently 795,500 reported missing children. Of those, 203,900 are family abductions.

Allen said one of his first cases with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which he also co-founded, was 7-year-old Leticia Hernandez who was abducted from her front yard in Oceanside in 1989. He said during the 13-month search for her they believed they came close to finding her several times but toward the end of the investigation her body was recovered close to her home and it appeared the remains had been there for quite some time.

Broughton advised a new set of rules for children that could keep them from becoming a target:

• If you’re not with your parents, be with kids your own age. Never be alone with an adult with no other kids around.
• Your parents need to know where you are. Let them know where you will be.
“It’s hard with teenagers because they’re genetically incapable of doing what they said they’d be doing at the beginning of the night,” Broughton joked. “But when those plans change, they need to let parents know about those plans and parents have an obligation to let kids make those changes…if parents don’t go along with the changes, those phone calls will stop.”
• Encourage children to trust what they feel is right. If something feels wrong or if something happens, talk to parents or a trusted adult right away.

This is especially poignant looking at those statistics of one in five girls and one in 10 boys who are sexually assaulted and the one in three who actually report it.

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