Thursday Edition: Kidnapping Facts

March 12, 2003
Category: Uncategorized


Background for the Elizabeth Smart case —

In 2001, 840,279 people (adults and children) were reported missing to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The FBI estimates that 85 to 90 percent of those (roughly 750,000 people or 2,000 per day) reported missing were children. The vast majority of these cases are resolved within hours.

Based on the identity of the perpetrator, there are three distinct types of kidnapping: kidnapping by a relative of the victim or “family kidnapping” (49 percent); kidnapping by an acquaintance of the victim or “acquaintance kidnapping” (27 percent); and kidnapping by a stranger to the victim or “stranger kidnapping” (24 percent).



  • Family kidnapping is committed primarily by parents, involves a larger percentage of female perpetrators (43 percent) than other types of kidnapping offenses, occurs more frequently to children under 6, equally victimizes juveniles of both sexes, and most often originates in the home.

  • Acquaintance kidnapping involves a comparatively high percentage of juvenile perpetrators, has the largest percentage of female and teenage victims, is more often associated with other crimes (especially sexual and physical assault), occurs at homes and residences, and has the highest percentage of injured victims. When acquaintance kidnappings end in murder, the murder happens quickly. According to a study by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, in 74 percent of missing-child homicides, the child is murdered within the first three hours of the abduction.

  • Stranger kidnapping victims are more often female than male. They occur primarily at outdoor locations, victimize both teenagers and school-age children, and are associated with sexual assaults in the case of female victims and robberies in the case of male victims (although not exclusively so). This is the type of kidnapping most likely to involve the use of a firearm.

Only about one child out of each 10,000 missing children reported to the local police is not found alive. About 20 percent of the children reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in nonfamily abductions are not found alive. In 80 percent of abductions by strangers, the first contact between the child and the abductor occurs within a quarter-mile of the child’s home. Most potential abductors grab their victims on the street or try to lure them into their vehicles. About 74 percent of the victims of nonfamily child abduction are girls. Acting quickly is critical. Seventy-four percent of abducted children who are ultimately murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction.



Long-Term Missing Kids Cases Usually Do Not End This Way

The Elizabeth Smart case might give hope to families who have missing children, but most such cases do not end this way.

The overwhelming majority of children abducted by strangers eventually return home safely, experts say, though very few are held as long as the nine-month ordeal of Elizabeth Smart.

About 4,600 children are abducted each year by strangers, according to Ann Scofield of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But she said most are held only briefly before being freed.


Only 100 or so abductions by strangers each year fit into more serious categories — cases in which the child is held for an extended period of time or is killed, she said. But the longer the abduction lasts, the more bleak the prospects become of finding the child alive.

It might be a time when you look at missing children in your town. It might be a time for you to talk about what goes through a missing person detective’s mind when they hear of one of these rare success cases.

Here are missing persons resources you can check state by state.





Missing Children Rarely Taken by Strangers

This is a good time to remind ourselves that most children are abducted by somebody they know or by an estranged parent. I wonder how many child identification companies will try to cash in on this case to frighten parents into buying identification kits.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics says
 that kidnapping composes less than 2 percent of all violent crimes against juveniles reported to police.



  • 49 percent of juvenile kidnappings are perpetrated by family members, 27 percent by an acquaintance and 24 percent by a stranger.

  • Acquaintance kidnapping involves a comparatively high percentage of juvenile perpetrators, has the largest percentage of female and teenage victims, is more often associated with other crimes, and has the highest percentage of injured victims.

In a 1998 study of parents’ worries by pediatricians at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., nearly three-quarters of parents said they feared their children might be abducted. One-third of parents said this was a frequent worry — a degree of fear greater than that held for any other concern, including car accidents, sports injuries, or drug addiction.





Stockholm Syndrome

In the coming days, you may hear a lot about “brainwashing” or “Stockholm Syndrome.” It is a syndrome in which a person who is being held hostage sometimes develops a bond or even sympathy for the person who is harming them or holding them. The name refers to a bank holdup in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 when two men held four people hostage for six days. The hostages and their captors bonded with each other and the hostages actually came to see their captors as protecting them from the police. One was even reported as later becoming engaged to one of the captors. Here is a site that explains the syndrome.



Refinancings Hit a Record

This may be about the only good economic news to tell your public these days. Fresh lows in mortgage rates spurred record numbers of homeowners to apply to refinance their mortgages last week, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America said Wednesday.


The MBA said the number of refinancing applications last week reached its highest level since the group began its weekly survey in 1990. Refinancings accounted for 79.8 percent of all mortgage applications the week ended March 7, and the refinancing index was up 35 percent from the previous week, the MBA said.


“This is a huge refinance number,” said MBA Senior Economist Phil Colling.





Study: Safe Haven Laws Don’t Work

“Safe haven” laws that 42 states adopted to save the lives of unwanted babies aren’t working and may encourage the abandonment of infants who might otherwise be placed for adoption or reared by relatives, according to a study by a New York-based think tank seeking to improve adoption policy. The Sacramento Bee’s story says, “Enacted in the past three years in response to dead newborns found in trash bins and other places, the laws allow parents to leave unwanted infants at hospitals and other ‘safe havens’ without fear of prosecution.

“‘Government is sanctioning the abandonment of children,’ said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute that conducted the study. ‘In a better world, we would have a better system that would help the mothers and the children and would save not just one child but all the children.'”



Passive Cigarette Smoke Linked to Children’s Cavities

Add time in the dentist’s chair to the childhood risks from inhaling secondhand cigarette smoke, researchers said Tuesday. Children subjected to environmental cigarette smoke developed higher blood levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine, and those children tended to have more cavities in their deciduous, or primary, teeth.

Reuters says, “Exposure to tobacco smoke nearly doubles a child’s risk of having cavities,” said study author and pediatrician Andrew Aligne, who led a team of researchers from the University of Rochester, New York, and the Center for Child Health Research.”







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