7-year-old survives abduction due to survival skills

A little girl’s escape from kidnappers is one example of teaching children to use survival instincts without creating fear. The case is older, but the repercussions of its lessons still ring out: children can and will use survival skills to avoid succumbing to evil if given the right tools: self-esteem and respect.


In July of 2002, Erica Pratt was seven years old when she played outside her Southwest Philadelphia home. Two men in a car stopped on the street. They called her over to the car; when Erica refused, the driver hopped out to grab her. After the passenger shoved Erica to the floorboard, the car drove away, with Erica kicking and screaming the entire abduction. 

Erica Pratt survived kidnapping

The playmate ran to tell adults. While neighbors immediately begin to fan out across the area, the abductors took Erica into the basement of an empty house. They bound her wrists, wrapped the little girl’s head in duct tape, then locked her in. As night fell, Erica was left alone in total darkness.


As she spent the night in the basement, the captors worked a ransom demand to Erica’s grandmother. Money was the motive in this case. Both men were known criminals in the area. They knew the family. They demanded $150,000, or the little girl would die. During the kidnapping, Erica was allowed to speak to her mother by phone. Her kidnappers told Erica if her grandmother wasn’t forthcoming with the money, “you’ll never see your grandmother again.” Because she loved and respected her grandmother, this was probably the main reason Erica began her escape mission. Genuine fear takes over the brain if we allow it, and it says, “let me show you what to do.”


Erica Pratt listened to genuine fear; the seven-year-old allowed her survival skills to overthrow helplessness. Erica worked her way out of the duct tape, chewing and twisting the binds on her wrists. She forced a hole into the basement door by kicking out a panel, then hurried upstairs in darkness. Erica busted a front window and screamed for help. When two ten-year-old boys heard, they notified “Operation Safe Streets” patrolling officers. In 24 hours, Erica Pratt was safe in her grandmother’s arms. The cops reported Erica was calm upon rescue and able to identify her captors by reviewing a photo lineup. Officers told the media how amazed they were at her “pluckiness.”


Part of the child’s pluckiness was attributed to her grandmother Barbara Pratt, who kept a close eye on her grandchild. They lived in a high crime area, with family members (including both parents) in trouble with the law;  Erica was only allowed so far from the yard. Erica had to ask permission to go places outside of the home. Mrs. Pratt volunteered at Erica’s school. She made sure the pretty little girl kept up her grades and used good manners. Erica was to practice safety when riding her bicycle.


Teaching a child to respect others and respect oneself is a core component in building self-esteem. Besides a tool for teamwork, respect begets self-control. And self-esteem is part of survival mode – if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you trust yourself to listen when the brain places you in “survive” mode?


A perpetrator commits a crime for two primary reasons: power and control. They utilize fear tactics to overpower their victim and keep them subdued. People with poor self-control and little sense of self-worth are easier targets. Consider: a child predator purposely seeks children who crave attention and love, who need reassurance.


Erica Pratt embraced by family after ordeal

Erica was able to escape by chewing and twisting the duct tape binds. Duct tape is of several components that, while strong, also make it easy to manipulate. Rubber is the main component, with a cotton cloth lying between the sticky and topside. That silver backing (or any other color nowadays) is polyethylene, also made to create plastic bags. Try tearing a piece of duct tape longways versus across. One is much easier to rip.  And, to loosen duct tape over the mouth, saliva will weaken the glue and cotton, allowing enough space to begin at least partial removal. Erica had a piece of duct tape in her hair when rescued. 


The Philadelphia school district where Erica was a student gave commendations to students who were “heroes” – including Erica Pratt – children who deserved recognition for an outstanding act of bravery or leadership. While public recognition can help a child’s confidence, giving them the power of positive thinking comes from immediate peers: caregivers, adults, siblings. 


Erica Pratt used survival skills, gifted in part by her grandmother Barbara Pratt, and perhaps from close observation of the price of criminal behavior. Erica fought, then escaped her captors, feeling her way through a dark house in the dead of night. At seven years old, she was a sweet girl who learned proper behavior, the precedent to remaining calm in the face of danger, and even identified her kidnappers. At the core of her survival skills, she had self-respect and esteem. All children have these survival abilities. It is the adult’s job to give them the tools.




Judith A. Yates teaches “common sense self-defense” for all ages in her book “How to Recognize the Devil.” 100% of proceeds are donated to charity. You can purchase it by CLICKING HERE.




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Flander, S. (2002, July 24). Erica is her own hero. Philadelphia Daily News.

Hinkleman, M. (2002, July 24). Erica is one feisty 7-year-old. Philadelphia Daily News.

Kim, J. (2019, January 5). The history behind duct tape and what makes it a handy solution for just about anything. Insider. https://www.businessinsider.com/duct-tape-strong-versatile-adhesive-stick-anything-2019-1

Panaritis, M., Porter, I., Soteropoulos, J. (2002, July 24).  At core of Phila. mystery’s core, a girl saved. The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Panaritis, M., Porter, I., Soteropoulos, J. (2002, July 24).  At mystery’s core, a young survivor. The Philadelphia Inquirer.