On international missing persons’ day, PJ data revealed a break in cases that were registered in Portugal, in its vast majority with a positive outcome. But internet-related sequestrations with sexual abuse are worryingby Pedro Sousa Tavares
A growing number of minor sequestrations – with associated sexual abuse and violence – are being connected to the expansion of new communication technologies, like the internet and mobile phones. Girls in their early adolescence, aged between 12 and 15, are the preferred targets of these digital era predators.
“They are caught at a phase in their lives that is psychologically complex: they are now women yet, but no longer children, either”, the president of the Portuguese Missing Children Association (APDC), Patrícia Cipriano, explained to DN. “They have a natural appetence to speak with older men, because youngsters of their age are more immature, and the person on the other side knows full well what to say in order to captivate them.”
In 2009 alone, she says, the association accompanied the families of two girls aged 13 and 15, that were sequestered in this manner, both at the beginning of this year. “One of them had already been taken to France. The other one was abused and aggressed by an alcoholic, with previous offences”.
The most recent case, which was publicised only days ago by the Polícia Judiciária (PJ), also involved a 13-year-old student who – apart from being sexually abused – was photographed and filmed by her aggressor, who posted the images on the internet.
“When a girl is on the internet, she may think she’s talking to another girl of her age, but there may be an adult man on the other side”, DN was told by Pedro Carmo, joint national director of the PJ. But this kind of sexual predator, he warned, despite “often being associated to the more violent situations”, is not the only motive for concern.
“There is not one [aggressor] profile, but various”, he explained. “A major part of the sexual crimes are committed by other minors”, the senior officer explained.
Over the last few years, both the authorities and civil associations have performed information actions in schools, with the students and with the families. Avoiding to give away sensible information to strangers, like name and address, is a basic advice. Another one is to refuse any encounters, or, as a last resort, to carry them out in public and with company.
Concerning International Missing People’s Day, the United Nations alerted, yesterday, to a raise in the cases of involuntary disappearances, involving the actions of a third party.
But in Portugal, according to Pedro Carmo, namely concerning minors, the cases almost always refer to voluntary ‘flights’ that “generally end up well, with youngsters returning home or being tracked down”. School results “below the expectations” or the temptation of “music festivals” contribute to the summer being more fertile in these situations.
According to PJ data, this year alone, over three thousand disappearances were reported. But only 10 persons – six adults and four children – remain in this situation. Among the cases involving minors, the joint national director detailed , “there are two” – Madeleine McCann and Rui Pedro – that remain without conclusions.
Since June, Portugal is one of the few countries with a quick abduction alert system. But so far, this mechanism – which contemplates the broadcast of warning on televisions and radios -, has not been activated yet: “It’s an exceptional tool, for exceptional situations”, Pedro Carmo explained.
Rui Pedro’s family has not given up yet
The appearance, in the United States, of Jaycee Lee Dugard, 18 years after her abduction, has brought “some encouragement” to the family of Rui Pedro, the 11-year-old boy that disappeared in 1988, who is one of the rare unsolved cases of missing children in Portugal.
“It’s true that the news brought the family and the mother [Filomena] some encouragement and hope, even more so because they were the same age when they disappeared”, Carlos Teixeira, the godfather of the boy who would be 22 years old now, told DN. “But it was also an example of how there can be some ingenuity by the police in the investigation”, he added.
Until today, Rui Pedro’s family continues to believe that there were little explored leads, like the possible involvement in the case of the “last witness who saw him”, a 23-year-old man who was heard at the time.
“The chances that Rui Pedro is alive may be minimal, but they exist”, the uncle said. “Dealing with that uncertainty is one of the difficulties in disappearances”.
source: Diário de Notícias, 31.08.2009