It’s the worst thing that can ever happen to a parent. Your child is missing. An agonizing wait for news ensues in which feelings of dread mount by the minute. With child abduction making headline news around the world on an almost daily basis and with famous kidnap stories remaining in the public eye – often for decades after a child has been found – it is no wonder that parents list abduction as one of their biggest fears. But is this fear justified? Here are some facts about child abduction that every parent needs to know.
In the United States, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) publishes statistics on missing children. Their most recent report was published in 2016. It found that:
- 20,500 children were reported missing
- 90% of missing children were endangered runaways
- 6% of missing child cases involved family abductions
- 2% of cases involved missing young adults, aged 18-20
- 1% of missing children were lost, injured or otherwise missing
- 1% of cases involved non-family (stereotypical) abductions
Missing vs. Abducted
The numbers of missing children reported each year seem staggering. However, it’s important to note that most reported cases of missing children do not involve abduction and are resolved within hours.
Children are reported missing for many different reasons and missing children usually turn up unharmed within a very short period of time. In the majority of cases, there has been a simple miscommunication between the child and the parent. The child may have misunderstood the time they were expected home or they might have got the meeting place wrong. Another common reason for a child to go missing is if they have had an argument with their parents and have decided not to go home. Some children may simply have gotten lost.
Many missing children – as many as 1000 per day – can be classified as runaways or ‘throwaways’. Throwaways are children who are forced out of their homes with no means of support. This group of children is extremely vulnerable. According to the US Department of Justice in their National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART) Report, these children are usually trafficked or sexually solicited within 48 hours of leaving home.
However, a minority of missing children do fall victim to kidnapping, sending parents and caregivers into a blind panic. Child abductions fall into one of three categories:
These children are usually taken from their own homes, most commonly by one of the parents. Victims of this type of kidnapping are usually under the age of 6 and the parents are often in a custody dispute over the child. This crime affects 203,000 children every year.
Perpetrators of this type of kidnapping are known to the victim and are often juveniles themselves. Most victims of this crime are adolescent females who are taken or lured from their homes or residences. This type of abduction is most often associated with other crimes, such as sexual or physical assault and has the highest rate of injured victims. This crime affects 58,000 children every year.
The theme of many Hollywood movies, this type of abduction is the one that strikes the most fear into the hearts of parents. Stranger kidnappings usually happen outside of the home and most victims are girls, who are subsequently subjected to sexual assault. Of the male victims, many are subjected to ransom or robbery. This crime affects 115 children every year in the United States.
More facts about Stranger Abduction
- First contact with the victim is usually made within ¼ mile radius of victim’s home
- Most victims are either grabbed or lured to vehicles
- 74% of stranger kidnappings involve female victims
- 74% of victims who are subsequently murdered are killed within 3 hours of the abduction
- Online grooming is compounding the problem – 1 in 5 children aged 10-17 have received unwanted sexual solicitations online
A recent social experiment that went viral on the Internet, showed how easy it is to abduct a child from right under the nose of a parent. When a friendly man with a dog approached children on a playground, 7 out of 10 children walked away with him, indicating that the ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ message is not enough.
Reason to panic?
There is a common assumption that stranger abduction is the main reason why a child goes missing. Knowing how easy it is for a child to be abducted only fuels the fear that so many parents have. However, there is reason to be optimistic. After all, 99.8% of missing kids do come home and only 1 in 10,000 will not be found alive.
If you would like to know more about child abduction, how to keep your child safe and what to do if the worst thing does happen, please refer to our other articles in this series.