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  December 2001

The Criminal Justice System's Response to Parental Abduction

Kathi L. Grasso, Andrea J. Sedlak, Janet L. Chiancone, Frances Gragg, Dana Schultz, and Joseph F. Ryan


Definition and Legal Framework

Study Background

Phase 1: Findings From the National Survey

Phase 2: Findings From Site Visits

Phase 3: Findings From Case File Reviews

Implications of This Study


For Further Information



NCJ 186160

This Bulletin was prepared under grant number 93–MC–CX–0010 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, and the Office for Victims of Crime.

A Message From OJJDP

The expeditious return of a missing child who has been abducted is a critical step toward alleviating the trauma suffered by both child and parent. The active involvement of both law enforcement and criminal court officials is, of course, integral to attaining this desired goal.

As research has demonstrated, the most prevalent form of child abduction in the United States is parental kidnapping. This Bulletin draws on findings of a study conducted for OJJDP by the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and Westat to assess the criminal justice system's response to parental abduction.

Parental abduction is a crime in all 50 States and in the District of Columbia and, in most cases, constitutes a felony. The OJJDP study reviewed all stages of the criminal justice system's response to this crime, including the reporting of the abduction, the investigation of the case, the finding and recovery of the victim, and the criminal prosecution of the perpetrator or perpetrators. To date, it is one of the most comprehensive studies of this issue.

Children stand to benefit from a review of the study's findings by law enforcement and court officials and other representatives of the justice system. The information provided in these pages is intended to facilitate such crucial consideration.



At the time of this Bulletin’s development, Kathi L. Grasso, J.D., was Director of the Child and Adolescent Health Law Program at the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law. She is now Director of OJJDP’s Research and Development Division. Andrea J. Sedlak, Ph.D., is Associate Director of Human Services Research at Westat. Janet L. Chiancone, M.S., is a Program Manager in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Research and Program Development Division. Frances Gragg, M.A., is a Senior Project Director at Westat. Dana Schultz, M.P.P., is a Project Analyst at Westat. Joseph F. Ryan, Ph.D., is a former detective with the New York City Police Department and currently the Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology at Pace University in New York and a nationally recognized expert on police response to intimate violence.

Other individuals involved with this research included Susan J.Wells, Ph.D., Patricia Hoff, Esq., Diane D. Broadhurst, M.L.A., and Lisa Altenbernd. Project Advisory Board members were Martha-Elin Blomquist, Ph.D., Judge Christopher Foley, and Janet Kosid Uthe, Esq.

Photo 1 © 1998–2001 PictureQuest, Inc.; photo 2 © 1997–99 PhotoDisc, Inc.; photo 3 © 2001 Corbis Corporation.

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