Infant Abduction Prevention, Part 2

What hospital security administrators need to know about the MO of infant abductors


Here again, the abductor instinctively knows that the mother is a creature of habit; indeed, as humans, we are all creatures of habit. The frantic and busy atmosphere of the birthing unit can confuse and distract even the most organized mother. With all the confusion and preoccupation it is so easy, if only for a moment, for a mother to lose sight of her baby. She may just have to run to the bathroom for just a minute, or take a brief shower, or even doze off for a second. This is something the mother must not do; to leave her baby unsupervised for even a minute is unsafe. In the blink of an eye an abductor can snatch a baby, dash down a stairwell, exit to her waiting car, and be gone in a flash.

It never ceases to amaze me, from birthing center to birthing center throughout the US, the number of hospitals that still expose their mothers and babies to this unnecessary risk. As we evaluate the security in these mother/baby and pediatric units, we continuously see mothers sleeping while their baby is unsupervised, or taking a shower, or walking outside the room talking with someone, completely out of sight of their baby. When this is brought to the nurse manager's attention, she may say, "Our babies are electronically tagged and cannot be taken out of the unit by an unauthorized person without an alarm going off." She will say, "There is no way someone could take our babies." It is at that point the worn newspaper clippings and news stories are pulled out to show the nurse manager where numerous babies have been abducted while wearing an infant electronic tagging system.

Like most criminals, the last thing the abductor wants to do is to get caught. She begins her mission by selecting a hospital where she feels she will have the best chance of taking a baby without being noticed. She will evaluate a number of hospitals throughout the community and by using the process of elimination, she will eventually select a hospital where she feels the most comfortable abducting a baby. All abductors prefer a hospital that has the least amount of security. Her favorite target will be a busy hospital with a lot of activity where she can easily blend into the background. Her preferred hospital will offer open access where visitation will not be controlled and security is at a minimum. There will be few or no security cameras visible, and an unlocked emergency fire exit will provide quick access for her to escape down a stairwell exiting to the outside.

It will be extremely easy for her to go from service to service and floor to floor without being challenged. She will select a hospital where it is difficult to tell an employee from a visitor. Even though the badges are available, not all doctors, staff members and employees wear their hospital photo ID badge - which is often the one tool hospital's have that can distinguish between authorized employees and care givers from unauthorized persons. Many also wear their photo ID with the picture facing backwards because they do not like the unflattering picture on the front, or it may be a simple problem of lanyards flipping over the card.

Remember, the abductor's goal is to take a child from the maternity unit, exit the floor, travel through the main hospital, or down a stairwell, enter the parking lot, and leave the hospital campus without being caught. The most difficult part for the abductor is getting into the mother/baby unit unnoticed. Her primary goal is not to appear suspicious to hospital staff, while at the same time, she will need to convince the mother she is a hospital employee.

How does the abductor accomplish such a feat? It is uncanny how an abductor is able to select a mother that is easily susceptible to manipulation and easily succumbs to the power of suggestion. She will casually enter the victim mother's room and befriend her by pretending they have previously met and they are old friends or she will go into the mother's room several times to convince the mother she is an employee of the hospital. Once she has accomplished this, she is able to move freely throughout the mother/baby unit unchallenged. In effect, she has convinced the staff she is related to the mother and/or has convinced the mother she is a hospital employee. At the most opportune moment she will go into the mother's room, successfully lie to her, and, at that point, take the mother's baby and leave the hospital unseen.