For anyone and everyone raising a child, it’s the stuff of nightmares: your little one disappears. Life becomes a hellish cycle of talking to police, putting up fliers, and waiting, waiting for any kind of news. Child abduction is a recurring plot in movies and television for good reason: it’s a visceral fear that most of us relate to.
And as with any deeply felt cultural response, the popular fear of child abduction has birthed a lot of misinformation about the subject. A superficial glance at the statistics provides fuel for the fire: a child goes missing every 40 seconds in the US. Child abductions target both teenagers and younger kids. A majority of those abducted are female, and there’s a strong correlation between abduction and sexual assault. It would be easy to fall into a permanent paranoid state, regarding every stranger with suspicion. And there’s no reason to.
- 90% of missing children are simply lost, held up, running late, or have run away.
- Kidnapping by a family member during a custody dispute constitutes 9% of child abduction cases.
- Teenagers are by far the most common victims of both family and non-family abductions.
- 3% of abducted children are kidnapped during the commission of a crime; the kidnapper is likely someone the child knows.
- Only about 100 children a year are kidnapped in stereotypical stranger abductions—a fraction of a percentage point. Stranger abductions are very rare.
- Roughly half the children kidnapped by strangers come home.
- In total, 99.8% of all missing children come home.
In addition, according to FBI crime statistics, the number of missing or abducted people of all ages is dropping steadily. This is part of a broader trend of reduced crime rates in the US.
So now that we’ve broken down the numbers, how do we go about keeping our children safe. There’s a huge amount of information available online about how to educate children to care for their own safety and well being, and it’s worth reading. I would like to offer some additional points:
Make this kind of safety training part of your family emergency plan. If your child knows has your phone number and that of another trusted adult memorized, knows how to ask for help and how to deal with strangers, and other basics then you’re most of the way to success.
Child abduction often happens during a custody dispute. If you’re involved in such a situation, please talk to your attorney, the police, and other experts as to what to do. There’s a lot that’s been written on the subject, but I think this is a case when you need professional advice tailored to your individual circumstances.
Keep the lines of communication open with your children. Make sure they understand that they can come to you if they feel something is wrong, and that you’ll believe them. If they do tell you something’s up, listen to them and trust their judgments. Kids often think adults are infallible, even to other adults. Let your little ones know you have their back.