Sex & Life
Sex & Life March 9, 2017
What does it really take to keep your children safe? Even though parents may be more aware of predators than ever, a child is still abducted or goes missing every 40 seconds in the U.S.
For one mother, this statistic is far too real: as a graduate student, Dr. Lisa Strohman worked with the FBI’s Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit. Although she has since moved on to working as a clinical psychologist, the 387 cases she covered with the FBI are still branded in her memory.
What was it like to participate in child abduction and serial killer cases before the age of 25? And how does Strohman’s experience in the FBI impact her parenting style today? To find out all that and more, ENTITY sat down with Dr. Lisa Strohman. Here’s what a mother who’s seen “true evil” wants parents to know.
ENTITY: Let’s start with parenting. What are the top pieces of information you learned about keeping children safe from predators that you want parents to know?
LISA STROHMAN: First, I’d say it’s to be involved. When I was in the unit, there was an active Internet focus where agents were online pretending to be children. They were all busy, 24/7, and that was years and years ago. Today, I would say that the predators are more savvy than most parents and all children. They know how to make an alias, present themselves as someone else and figure out ways to make kids come to them.
Parents need to recognize that even the best, smartest and most cautious kids are naturally trusting individuals.
They don’t know how calculating and evil some of these people can be.
ENTITY: You mention technology. In what ways are predators using technology to reach kids? And how do you manage technology with your own children?
LISA STROHMAN: A lot of predators today go on Instagram and follow accounts that kids don’t make private, so they know the kids’ habits, who they’re friends with, the school they’re going to, etc. Then, they utilize KIK [“kick”] to get children onto a platform that parents can’t monitor. KIK is basically a messaging app, but its base servers out of the country. Because of this, we have no jurisdiction as U.S. law enforcement to be able to access that information or data. And, so, you’ll see very quickly that people on Instagram will often write, “KIK me at” and then they’ll paste a hyperlink for kids to follow.
My son, who is eight, and my daughter, who is nine, do not have any technology, nor will they have any for a long time. When you decide as a family that your children are ready to have it, you should have it monitored at all times and you should not let them download any apps without you being aware of those apps. Also, always have your child’s password.
ENTITY: Does your experience with the FBI impact the way you parent your own children today?
LISA STROHMAN: 100 percent.
I did not have children for 16 years After we were married because I was terrified about whether I would be able to keep them safe.
I really was exposed to the pure evil and lack of security that any of us have against people who really want to go after our kids. It took me a long time to figure that out.
Now, I talk to my kids about what I call “tricky people.” I don’t say “stranger danger” because everyone’s a stranger as a kid. I say if someone’s making you uncomfortable, tell me. Last Saturday, I was hiking with my daughter and she noticed this gentleman running behind us on the trails. She said, “This man’s following us. He seems like he’s a tricky person.” And I validate that, so I replied, “Let’s go over here and make sure you feel safe.”
ENTITY: Do you have any other tips for how parents can talk to their kids about technological or personal safety?
LISA STROHMAN: Children nowadays are less naïve and more aware of things than they’ve ever been because they have access and because there’s information out there that’s unrestricted. It’s important to have realistic conversations about these bad people and these evil things can happen in the world. It’s important to talk about things like “this is how you stay safe,” and “this is why, as a family, we openly communicate.”
Secondly, most abductions occur by people who are known to you. If a child is going to get molested or abducted, it’s somebody in their circle (like a family member or close family friend). I tell my children that, even though mommy and daddy are friends with certain people, they have to make their own judgements. I also say that just because somebody is an adult doesn’t mean that they make good choices or that they should automatically be listened to. That last piece of advice did bite me in the butt one time. My daughter told me one day, “You know, mom, you told me I have free will.” She was like three! It was pretty funny.
ENTITY: Now, for a little background. How did you first get involved with working at the child abduction unit with the FBI?
LISA STROHMAN: I started with the FBI as an honors intern. It was a summer program that accepted 100 college or graduate students, two from every state, and assigned the students to various units. You could end up taking pictures of tourists for FBI headquarters, for instance. I got assigned to the profiling division – particularly, homicidal pedophilia.
So, my research was looking at the incarceration status of offenders who had committed some homicide and molested or raped children in the process. As I was doing that research, I was asked if I would consider doing my dissertation and research on abductions because we were starting to see a more violent trend happening. Women in their last term of pregnancy were being abducted and murdered, and the child being taken out of utero. So, that’s how I got held on.
ENTITY: What were some of your biggest challenges and rewards to working with the child abduction unit?
The biggest challenge was beginning to get night terrors because, in my work, I had 387 cases and every single file had a different picture of a child. Having those images…even when I talk about specifics now, they all come back to me. As someone who is very empathic, it was very challenging to not take on the hurt and the pain of those cases.
The biggest reward, though, was that the FBI is an incredible organization and those agents in that unit were all incredibly dedicated human beings. To be part of cases where there was research coming out that would help future investigations, that was incredible rewarding.
ENTITY: How was it to work with the FBI as a woman?
LISA STROHMAN: There were only two women in the unit at the time. The FBI was founded on the measure that agents are moved around every few years. If you get too comfortable in a community, you’re more likely to develop relationships with people who could take advantage of your position. All the men in the unit were 20-plus-years married with wives who were happy stay-at-home moms. The women in the unit were divorced and had been divorced several times.
A lot of that has changed now, and the FBI has done a larger part in trying to get women involved in the field and being agents. One funny story. When I lived in the dorms in Quantico, I saw a group of DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] recruits being trained. There were lines of men and women who were being sprayed in the face – around six inches away – with pepper spray. The most interesting thing is that every single woman came together and formed a chain to walk to the dorm to shower. The men, on the other hand, started running around and independently trying to find their way. It was such an illuminating example of some strengths that women can bring in certain situations that men may not.
ENTITY: Is there anything else you want to tell our readers that you haven’t had the chance to?
LISA STROHMAN: I would just say to not to take your children’s maturity and their ability to take on information for granted. If parents want to have more in-depth conversations with their kids, they need to stop focusing on questions like: “Are they doing enough sports? Are they doing enough music?” Instead, just get to know your kids in a very emotionally intimate way so that you can share some of these more important topics with them.
My kids are totally affected by my work with the FBI, and I don’t know if it’s in a negative way.
I’d rather My kids be safe than be in a position where they’re oblivious to dangers found today.
ABOUT LISA STROHMAN: Today, Dr. Strohman is applying her knowledge of technology and crime to programs that educate children about technology. She has established the Digital Citizen Academy, the Technological Wellness Center and regularly visits school districts and parent organizations as a guest speaker. She also co-authored the book, “Unplug: Raising Kids in a Technology Addicted World” in 2015.
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