In the United States a child is reported missing every 41 seconds. This averages out to about 2100 children reported missing every single day (Child Rescue Network, 2014). This is a tragic and startling statistic. There are different reasons children and teens are reported missing. The vast majority of these daily missing reports are for one of three reasons: miscommunication with a parent about whereabouts, children who run away from home and children who are thrownaways. And then there is the most frightening possibility: abduction.
Whereabouts Miscommunication with Parents
A good portion of the daily missing children turn up to not really be missing or abducted, with about 800 of the daily reports being mis-communications between parents and their children about where they are supposed to be or children not contacting parents when plans change (Child Rescue Network, 2014). These cases are generally solved very quickly and children are brought home to their parents without incident.
Children Who Are Runaways or Thrownaways
Approximately 1000 children daily are classified as runaways or thrownaways (Child Rescue Network, 2014). To clarify, runaways are children who have left their homes out of their own free will and are not looking to come home. These are the children who have perceived problems at home and feel the only way to escape these problems is to leave. Thrownaways are a different case; these children have been abandoned or thrown out of their homes by their parents or guardians with no resources to provide for themselves (Child Rescue Network, 2014). These children generally have been abused or neglected in some way, shape or form and their parents are just tired of taking care of them.
The combined 1800 children reported missing daily that are not a product of kidnapping or abduction can be stopped with proper communication between parents and children and with community support for runaways and thrownaways. By changing these two simple thoughts police and other emergency responders can be freed to put more effort and time into children and teens that are abducted or kidnapped in the United States. Parents can institute a call in policy with their children requiring them to check in every so many hours or when plans change to prevent miscommunication and reports of missing children. Runaways can go to any behavioral health center to talk to a councilor when they feel the urge to run away from home, and finally parents who are having a hard time providing for their children or just do not want their children can contact their local child protective services and turn over the child for adoption. Again with these small changes and some community support the 1800 reports of missing children who are not really missing can be cut down and give time for investigation of kidnapped or abducted children.
Kidnap vs. Abduction
There is a difference between kidnapping and abduction. Most people are unaware of the difference and use the terms interchangeably. This is not correct and can cause some confusion with law enforcement as to what their plan of action should be, wasting time and manpower.
The definition of kidnapping according to the African Government and adopted by the United States Government is: a child or other person is detained and taken some distance away from the site of abduction (generally 50 miles or more (Illinois State Police, 2014)), held for ransom, or is taken by a stranger in order to be raised as their own child. (Erasmus, 2011)
This definition does contain the word abduction; this could be where the confusion may come from with non-law enforcement officers. However the main difference is in the reason for taking the child or person.
The definition of Abduction is as follows: The unlawful taking of a minor from the control of their parents or guardians for the purpose of marriage or sexual intercourse. (Erasmus, 2011)
When a parent or guardian reports a child abduction or kidnapping it is important to properly define abduction or kidnapping so they are aware of what they are reporting and emergency responders are aware of what they are dealing with. There are different response plans for each of the two issues and emergency responders will save time if they are aware of what they are dealing with in the first place.
Three General types of Child Abduction
1- Stranger Abduction for criminal reasons
This is the type of abduction most people learned about in school known as the “Stranger Danger” program.
Most commonly fits the definition of abduction as the children victim to stranger abduction are generally held for sex, or trade into servitude or other criminal activity. Some of these victims can be held for ransom and when the ransom is met most are generally returned unharmed.
2- Abduction by a stranger or acquaintance to be raised as their own
These abductions are generally by a person who have lost a child or cannot have one of their own. There is generally some level of familiarity with the abductor by the parent and/or the child. Most times child is found without being assaulted or injured.
3- Non-custodial Parent Abduction
These abductions are generally during a custody battle or shortly after the other parent wins custody. Children are generally returned to the custodial parent within a few days of the abduction. Children are generally unharmed when they are returned.
These are the three most common forms of abduction. ( (Child Rescue Network, 2014) (Erasmus, 2011) (Illinois State Police, 2014))
Child Abduction Statistics
- 800,000 children reported missing per year (Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2014)
- 200,000 children or more, less than 18 years old abducted by family members each year (Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2014)
- 58,000 children or more each year under the age of 18 years are abducted by non-family members (family friends, coaches, strangers, etc.) (Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2014)
- First three hours are the most critical after an abduction. A 2006 study showed that at least 76.2 percent of children abducted are murdered after the first three hours. (Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2014)
These statistics are frightening but can be avoided with some training of children and parents, about safety procedures. There are many factors which have to be present for a person to successfully abduct a child; if parents and children avoid these factors and know what to look for these statistics can be reduced dramatically.
What Children Should Look For and Avoid
Children should be trained to not talk to strangers under no circumstances. Children are naturally sociable, when a parent or other trusted adult is around this is not always a bad thing; however, children should know never, never, never to talk to strangers alone. Children should be aware of the general rouses used by abductors. This list is what is reported in most child abduction stories as the most popular:
- A stranger asking for help to find a lost pet. Most children identify with the idea of losing a pet and are generally willing to help find the pet to keep a person from being sad.
- A stranger asking for directions to someone the child may know home. Children are helpful most of the time and eager to show what they know. Therefore when someone asks them to help find someplace they know how to get to, a child will want to take them to the place.
- The offer of reward or money to help locate something or someone. Children like to earn their own money and show self-sufficiency.
- Saying the child’s parents are hurt, looking for them, or need their help for some reason. This preys on the child’s need to be useful and obedient. Children will aim to please their parents and will want to give aide in the event of an emergency.
- Fooling a child into believing or telling a child they are an Undercover Police Officer. Children are taught by their parents to trust Police Officers and there are people who will prey upon this trust. As such a child should be trained to only approach a Police Officer in uniform, or a marked Police car. They should not ever be approached by an Undercover Officer and if they are, the Officer should be able to show a badge when asked.
What Parents Should Look For
Parents should be aware that children are more vulnerable when they are alone. Therefore parents should partner with others in the neighborhood to have a group for the children to walk in. This group should be used for walking to school, to the bus stop, or anywhere the children will be out of the parent’s sight. Parents should pay attention to strange or unknown vehicles in the neighborhood or along their child’s route to school or elsewhere. When seeing a strange or unknown vehicle, parent should report it immediately to authorities. When making that report parents should have, if available:
- License plate number along with the issuing State. (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Color of the vehicle (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Body style and make of the vehicle (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Location and/ or the direction of travel of the vehicle (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Description of the occupants (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Race (white, black, Hispanic etc.) (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Sex (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Clothing (style, color etc.) (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Facial Features (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Approximate height and weight (Illinois State Police, 2014)
- Location and/or direction of travel (Illinois State Police, 2014)
Parents and children who know what they are looking for and can give an accurate report of activity can help reduce the number of abductions per year. Children do not have to be afraid of everyone but need to be aware of their surroundings and who is near them.
An ounce of prevention is always the best policy. There are many ways to prevent child abduction, too many really to go through all of them; however, there are a few basics that every parent and child should know that will reduce the risk of becoming a victim.
- A child should never approach a strange or unknown vehicle. Most abductors will make offers of money or candy to get a child to come to their car. Once the child comes to the car the abductor will force the child into the car and speed off. This is avoided by teaching children to never go to a car where they do not personally know the person(s) inside.
- Children should only walk in groups. This is a protection for every child of the group. Most persons looking to abduct a child will not remove a child from a group because of having witnesses. The child walking alone becomes a statistic whereas groups of children avoid being victimized.
- Parents should train their children to report any suspicious car or person to teachers, parents, law enforcement or other trusted adults when they see this activity. Awareness is the number one reason why children are not abducted.
- Parents can role play with their children about how to handle an attempted abduction. Phrases such as:
“You’re not my Daddy/Mommy!”
“You are a Stranger!”
“I don’t know you!”
Should be taught during this role play time, just having a child scream uncontrollably can be misinterpreted as a tantrum and dismissed by other people passing by.
- Parents and children should have a check-in plan when the child is with friends. This can be as simple as calling every two hours or sending a text to let parents know where they are. It should also be part of the plan that children check in if and when plans change or their location changes.
The Amber Alert System
The Amber Alert system is enacted in all 50 states and is used to alert the general public of a missing or abducted child. When a child abduction alert goes out over the Amber Alert system a description of the child, the offender, and the vehicle is given for the public to watch for. Created in 1996 this system has been responsible for 702 children being returned to their homes and families to date. (Erasmus, 2011)
To recap, the vast majority of missing children reported daily are miscommunications between parents and their children, runaways, or thrownaways and not abductions. Parents who know the difference between kidnapping and abduction are better prepared to inform law enforcement what has happened to their children. With a few basic concepts children can be protected from abduction whether the perpetrator is a family member or a stranger, and teaching children to be alert when they play can reduce the risk of them becoming victims.
Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2014). Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Retrieved from missingkids.com: http://www.missingkids.com/KeyFacts
Child Rescue Network. (2014). Child Rescue Network. Retrieved from childrescuenetwork.org: http://www.childrescuenetwork.org/know-the-facts/child-abduction-facts/
Erasmus, S. (2011). 12 Facts on Child Abductions. Retrieved 2014, from http://www.parent24.com/School_7-12/health_saftey/12-facts-on-child-abductions-20080808
Illinois State Police. (2014). Illinois State Police. Retrieved from isp.state.il.us: http://www.isp.state.il.us/crime/caparentsguide.cfm