How Often Are Children Kidnapped, and What Happens to Them?

How Often Are Children Kidnapped, and What Happens to Them?

How Often Are Children Kidnapped, and What Happens to Them?
How Often Are Children Kidnapped, and What Happens to Them?

The NISMART–2 study analyzed nearly 800,000 cases across the country that were reported to police departments and child-search organizations in the late 1990s. Statistically, about 11 children out of every 1,000 were reported missing during 1999. The analysis yielded the following estimates of the number of victim–offender relationships and the characteristics of abducted children:

90 to 115 Life-Threatening Kidnappings of Children by Adults per Year

These cases fit the stereotype of a kidnapping: A child is detained overnight or longer and/or is transported 50 miles or more. The abductor intends to permanently keep the child, extort a ransom, or commit some other crime, including murder. In most of these extremely serious offenses, the kidnapper is not a complete stranger to the youngster and could be a disgruntled former boyfriend of the child’s mother, a friend of the family, a neighbor, or a babysitter.

Most of these 115 captives grabbed by strangers or acquaintances during 1999 were teenagers. Nearly 70 percent were females, and more than 70 percent were white. Unfor- tunately, in 40 percent of these 115 cases, the child was murdered before the authorities could find her or him. In an additional 4 percent, the victim’s body was never recovered (Finkelhor, Hammer, and Sedlak, 2002).

Between 1976 and 1987, as few as 50 and as many as 150 children were murdered by kidnappers each year. There was no discernible trend over the 12-year period. The victims tended to be older (aged 14–17), female, and from racial minority groups. Overall, a teenager’s chances of being kidnapped and murdered during this period were calculated to be 7 out of every 1 million; the chances for younger children were 1 out of 1 million per year.

The NISMART–1 study, with data based on different collection methods, yielded a larger estimate that 200 to 300 of this kind of kidnapping took place in 1988.

12,000 Short-Term Abductions by a Nonfamily Member per Year

These cases meet the legal elements of kidnapping: a crime by an acquaintance or by a stranger who takes the child by force, or by threats, or by deceit into a building, vehicle, or other place and/or detains the child for more than an hour, perhaps to commit a sexual assault.

56,500 Long-Term Abductions by a Family Member per Year

In these cases, a family member, usually a parent, takes the child in violation of a decree from family court and tries to conceal his or her whereabouts and/or moves the youngster to another state with the intention of keeping the child permanently and/or altering custodial arrangements. If cus- tody disputes are counted that were directly resolved by the estranged parents and guardians themselves and were not reported to the authorities, then the number of family abductions swells to over 200,000.

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