How Common is Child Abduction by Strangers?

Both these articles were published yesterday, but their messages are quite different on the topic of child abduction.

According to this
Blogger News Network article, children in America are under seige:

What’s going on with the kids in this country? It seems to be open season on them, especially young girls. It’s difficult to surf the cable news channels or talk radio programs these days and not come across a show or two about a missing or dead child.

The sad case of two-year-old Florida girl Caylee Anthony has held our attention for over nine months. Another case out of Florida involves the bizarre disappearance of five-year-old Haleigh Cummings. She vanished from her home on February 10 and hasn’t been seen since. And the body of eight-year-old Sandra Cantu was found on April 6, ten days after she went missing in Tracy, California.

I became interested in this topic earlier this year when I did a Blog Talk Radio show about Hanna Mack, the six-year-old Texas girl raped and murdered in 2007. My guest on tha
t program was Heather Steele of the Innocent Justice Foundation. The stats Heather provided about sexual predators and the child porn business both astounded and disgusted me. After doing Hanna’s show I became determined to do whatever I can to bring this horrible problem to the attention of the public.


The statistics doe not bear out Denny Griffin's and Heather Steele's assertion that stranger child-abduction and murder in America is as rampant a problem as they'd like you to believe. Another instance of media pushing the sensational for ratings? Dunno.

Here's actual data presented in an article by the Gainesville Sun:

Crime wasn't an issue in tiny Benton, the southern Illinois town where Regina Freeman grew up.

"Two murders in 20 years," Freeman says wistfully, and one of them was the result of a drunken brawl.

The other, she says, was committed by the unlikeliest of suspects: a friendly young man who lived near the local middle school and handed out candy to boys and girls passing by on their way home.

The man, Rodney Barnhill, sexually assaulted and strangled a 12-year-old girl from Freeman's school and left her body in an abandoned home. Barnhill was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

As awful as it was, the incident didn't deter Freeman and her friends from exploring their small town. They continued to venture far from home to visit friends or the corner store, out of sight of parents.

Now 39 and a mother of two preschoolers in Gainesville, Freeman ponders the dangers her children face and doubts they'll have the same freedom to roam that she did as they get older.

There is no doubt in her mind that the world in 2009 is a more dangerous place to be a child.

For her, incidents like the disappearance of Haleigh Cummings from her home near Palatka and the abductions of Jessica Lunsford in Citrus County and Carlie Brucia in Sarasota are sobering reminders that predators lurk everywhere.

"It was nothing for me to walk five or six blocks to the store," she says. "Nowadays, I say there's no way my child is walking five or six blocks anywhere."

But Freeman's fear belies two important facts that experts have known for years.

First, violent crimes against children have declined steadily over the past generation. The U.S. Departme
nt of Justice reports that 81 out of every 1,000 children between the ages of 12 and 15 were victims of violent crime in 1973, compared with 44 out of 1,000 in 2005.

And, second, the worst of those crimes - kidnappings, rapes and murders - are being committed not by strangers hunting innocents but by family members, neighbors or trusted adults the family knows.

In fact, the kidnappings of Carlie and Jessica by complete strangers, while terrifyingly sinister, are fairly rare events, representing only about one in every 2,900 abduction cases.

The most recent survey of kidnapping data conducted in 2002 for the U.S. Justice Department revealed that of the roughly 261,000 children who are abducted each year, the vast majority (203,900) are taken by a family member - often in a custody dispute - and j
ust 90 to 115 are victims of "stereotypical kidnappings" like Carlie and Jessica.

A stereotypical kidnapping, according to the survey, known as the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children (NISMART), is committed by a stranger or slight acquaintance. In these cases, the child is kept overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom, abducted with the intention of keeping the child permanently, or killed.

The remaining 58,000 or so abductions that occur annually are known as "nonfamily abductions," which occur when someone other than the child's family detains the child for a short period of time.

To many law enforcement agencies, these don't even qualify as abductions because the act of detaining the child is incidental to the primary crime, usually sexual abuse.

Often, the perpetrators of nonfamily abductions are people in a position of trust: neighbors, Scout leaders, friends of the family or even clergy.

That was the case with 13-year-old Sarah Lunde of Tampa, who was abducted and murdered in April 2005 by David Lee Onstott.

Onstott had been in a relationship with the girl's mother.

Yet the idea of a child being dragged off to be tortured, raped and murdered by a stranger is so terrifying and so well reported in the news media that parents, educators, even law enforcement officers and politicians, have accepted as fact that stranger abductions are
more commonplace than they actually are.

"Those are the ones that capture the public's imagination, and they should because they're awful" says Jim Beasley, supervisory special agent for the FBI and a specialist in crimes against children. "But because they hear the story told over and over, people tend to forget that this is the same incident."

Read more of this article at the link above.


I'm well aware that there are stranger abductions every year in the United States. Polly Klaas, Samantha Runnion. And others that the media tell us about. But stranger abductions are much more rare than the media would have us believe.

In the overwhelming number of child abduction cases the problem isn't strangers. It's family members and social contacts. We would shun a pleasant person at Publix for fear of that person wishing to do harm to our children, while without a thought we drop off our kids to the care of trusted associates at Boy Scouts meetings or at sleepovers or at Sunday School, where they come in contact with people who are much more likely to do them harm than some stranger who says Hi at Sam's Club, according to statistics.

Anyway, I thought that the Gainesville Sun article was an important piece of objective journalism, especially in stark contrast with the Blogger News Network article's sensationalistic alarmism.

Looking forward to reading your opinions on this.


Anonymous said...

I did some research on a related subject and found that the child most at-risk of being sexually abused is the daughter from a broken household (no daddy in the home). The real danger simply does not come from a stranger. I was looking into how states could mandate some preventative education, at least, in family court.

It's really a scary thought that more harm comes from people that are somehow a part of a child's life, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Wow. I love the direction this blog is going. Having spent the past few months at MMAC, I knew there were some really intelligent, witty people there.

It's nice to read about something that matters. And it is nice to see people have the guts to speak up when things suck. I guess you all know that isn't a problem for me lol.


(Shit-stirrer Extraordinaire)

Anonymous said...

There's several different topics of discussion in this blog entry: abduction, rape, murder.

What I find the most interesting of the points of the discussion is the sensationalism by media.

I'll include bloggers in the group of "media", as so many internet users today do get their news from blogs.

Regarding the Blogger News Network blog - I believe that this is a relatively new blog group which was created after Caylee went missing. While they seem to have very good intentions, they are "opinion" writers imo - and with all opinions can come rumor, gossip, exaggeration.

With experience in blogging, the blog and the writings mature and a firmer grasp of responsibility usually comes to the writer to put out the correct info at all times, to back up their writings with documentation, to research fully their topic before publishing. I think in time BNN will grow into a very good blog source.

Re: the drop in stranger abductions and child murders, I have to say that I think America has the most advanced systems in place to protect kids, and it's getting better every year.

Zia said...

If you judge by the latest news headlines, the biggest danger to a baby or young toddler is the mother's newest boyfriend.

Anonymous said...

It certainly seems that way when you read the news Zia. I guess kids get in the way....