Monday, January 15, 2007

Child Kidnapping – "The Missouri Miracle"

From Ash:

There's a ton of news reports out there on the safe return of the Missouri kidnapped boys, and I completely understand those. But what drives me crazy are those other articles – the ones spinning off the news reports – the related reports that suggest child kidnapping is an almost omnipresent threat. These articles may claim to be a performing a public service, teaching you how to protect your kids, but the facts just aren't there to support that claim.

No, instead, those articles do little more than fan a hysteria over child-kidnapping. And it's just got to stop.

Now I spend a lot of time in a crime-ridden community, so I'm certainly not saying that you should be cavalier about your child's safety: threats against children are real and have to be taken seriously. But all the attention on kidnapping is mis-placed and hides where the real danger often lies.

So these are the facts you should consider the next time you see a kidnapping reported on the news, or if you hear a parent say that he never lets his children out of his sight because of fears of kidnappings, etc –

99.8 percent of missing children (1,312,800) in the U.S. in 1999 were returned home alive or located (meaning not missing at all).

And don't think for a minute that means a million children were stolen off our streets that year. Conversely, almost half of those kids described as "missing" were actually runaways or – far from having parents who are desperate for their return – kids were often thrown out of the house.

Of the remaining kids, the vast majority were missing for benign reasons, such as a miscommunication, a missed curfew. Some are missing because they got lost, stranded, or injured, and couldn't get home.

And of those missing, most – about 90 percent – come home within 24 hours: most actually make it home within one to six hours.

Of the 0.2 percent (2,500) who had not returned home or been located, again – it wasn't a kidnapping that prevented them from coming home: again, most of them were juvenile runaways from institutions.

So just how widespread is the problem of stranger kidnapping – the kind you see in the movies? It isn't. It's such a small problem: it doesn't even qualify as minute.

Of the 1.3 million who went missing in 1999 – only 115 children in the U.S. of these taken in a classic stranger kidnapping. Total. Now, the horrific truth is that 49 of these children were found dead or are still missing.

But that's 49 out of 1.3 million. And the other 56 were found.

Moreover, there is no evidence that child kidnappings increased from 1988 to 1999. The only thing that increased was the media attention. And that's not my opinion – that's the conclusion of the U.S. Department of Justice.

To put it another way, consider that . . . .

For every one child kidnapped by a stranger, over 1,000 children are kidnapped by a parent or other family member (usually in a custody dispute).

In 1999, 1.7 million kids ran away or were thrown-out of their houses.*

In 1993, 57,000 children were permanently abandoned by their parents or caregivers.

Now, that I think is a national crisis. But you'll never hear about it. An abandoned child is too busy trying to survive to have a press conference.

* If you're wondering the number of missing kids and runaways seem sort of inconsistent, I think that's because some kids are reported as runaways, while others are described first as "missing," but when they ask what happened, the parent says "Oh, she ran away."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ashley, I am soooooo grateful for these statistics. That hysteria over stranger abduction drives me insane and I feel has held my own children hostage from having a "real" childhood safe from these unrealistic fears.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Claire said...

I feel that the threat to children has increased from every direction over the years and that parents need to be aware of every person their child comes into contact with. Whether this is going to summer camp, scouts or a friend's house for a playdate for example.

Also, how are they are supervised at these places and are they exposed to stranger danger, ie, someone unknown to all. Like the boys taken on their way home from school.

I don't feel this is hysterical and the definition of a stranger has changed since I was a child when it basically meant 'the weird man down the road who nobody talked to or went near.'

I, for one, cannot yet imagine a time when I will be happy for my son (age 8) to walk from the school bus stop by himself or anywhere alone without at least a friend with him.

Kidnapping may not be an omnipresent threat in itself but there are so many dangers that I cannot help but be reluctant to let my children out of sight. I just don't make a drama out of it.

7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

claire, I am sorry that you have been so brainwashed by the media that your child must be supervised every minute of his life. I find that inexpressibly sad.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Po Bronson said...

I'm with Claire. When my kids get a little older, and I get comfortable with the reality, I might have a very different feeling. But right now, looking into the future, I too feel like buddy systems or some other presence will be needed. We live across the street from Golden Gate Park, which is very safe, and yet there was a rape in the bushes not 150 yards from my house - they caught the man a week later, and he was definitely insane, not your average criminal. So I wonder when will I feel it's safe to let my children go into the park alone? Will it be at 8? at 11? or at 14? I leave my kids with babysitters in strange cities all the time. I have no worries about that. I know all the stats, and I don't think kids are at more risk today. It's more the prospect of them being all alone that makes me think, why take any chance at all?

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Claire said...

In response to anoymous:

Your post was both amusing and offensive to me. How judgemental you are in just two sentences!

I can say without a doubt that in no way do I 'over-parent' my kids as your post suggests. They have a lot of areas to learn good decision making through independence. They are not supervised and directed every moment of their day as seems to be the trend nowadays.

However, the only way I know they are safe is if I, or another trusted adult, know where they are or who they are with.

In another few years I may feel differently, but at present I choose to protect my sons' innocence and that requires me to be aware for them.

Ignorance is bliss as they say and if previous generations of parents had the access to news and information as we do now (media hyped or not), I wonder how that would have affected their parenting style.

I think it is inexpressibly sad that you can draw such a completely wrong conclusion out of a single post. Maybe an open mind would help. Or does that make you vulnerable to brainwashing?...

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worry about what will happen now. Are these Missouri boys now in counseling?

I cannot help but think of a case in California where a boy was kidnapped and after he returned home, he grew up and several years later, he was killed in a motorcycle accident. And his older or younger brother became a killer and killed several people in Yosemite.

A friend's friend was kidnapped as a child and that child was never found.

It really does take a village to raise a child.

I do not know if the kidnapping is really an omnipresent threat but I know it really does happen.

thanks again for a great article!


6:07 PM  
Blogger shannon said...

Listen lady, as a parent you should be ashamed of yourself trying to say we should not be worried and posting incorrect statistics. What the exact study your referring to said was that 115stereotypical kidnappings were reported ones in which children were abducted by complete strangers and taken over 50 miles. What you seemed to leave out was the second statistic that says a much larger number of kids, 58,000 were taken for shorter periods of time, mostly by people they new but NOT relatives. IN those cases nearly HALF were sexually assaulted. So im sorry lady BUT your dead wrong. I dont want my baby abducted or molested as one of the 58,000 kids that get taken even if its for a short period. You shouldnt have children if you dont know to protect them. Your kids will be the ones we read about running the streets and then wondering why they end up hurt somewhere... Every day i pass children that could be scooped up, and it happens, dont you get the news where even WOMAN are drugging kids these days and taking them, get REAL!

1:20 PM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...


You are indeed correct that I was referring to stereotypical stranger kidnappings. Perhaps that was more clear when I posted this in 2007, following two highly publicized stranger-kidnappings. And I'm sincerely sorry if any later readers were confused. So just to be crystal clear: yes I am indeed talking about classic stranger kidnappings as defined by the Department of Justice. I should note, though, that I believe the DOJ use of the term is what people envision when they hear the word "kidnap."

I did specifically say that kidnappings by relatives are more common, and I could have added the data on someone other than a relative but known to the child takes them; however, I don't find that clarifies the issue any, since most child safety advice is based on things like "Don't get into a car with someone you don't know." That doesn't address threat by neighbors, etc.

Of course, I never want to see a child in any danger. I never want anyone to scare a child, hurt a child, in anyway. I specifically said I do not believe that we should be ever cavalier about children's safety.

But I also believe that we should not let sensationalized incidents be the sole guide to raising kids, to the point that we ignore other concerns. And it's not just my opinion, but the DOJ's, that a focus on stranger-kidnappings of young children may lead to misdirecting efforts to help parents kids safe.

I'm not saying parents need to be irresponsible, and as to what is appropriate supervision to keep a child safe, that is up to parents/caregivers to decide. It would of course depend on the child's age, maturity and cognitive development, the parents' background and resources; where they live; the type of community, etc etc.

Finally, it's fine to criticize my reporting -- I'm happy to clarify or correct my work as needed. As to your conclusion that I should not have children, and that children of mine will end up forgotten and injured, I think that is inappropriate. I went ahead and published your comment since you had a valid substantive comment as well.

However, as a general note to readers, I do not want to publish personal attacks regarding individual people's fitness as parents or human beings. I want to have a serious thoughtful discourse. Period.

3:32 PM  

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