The NISMART–2 data on the two types of nonfamily abductions are the product of different methodologies. Victims of the less serious nonfamily abductions are numerous enough to be estimated through a household sampling procedure and were thus identified by interviewing caretakers and youth through a national telephone survey of households. Victims of stereotypical kidnappings, however, are rare and therefore difficult to estimate through household sampling without conducting an enormous and prohibitively expensive survey. Thus, a different methodology, one that involved a survey of law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, was used to ensure an accurate estimate of the number of stereotypical kidnapping victims. The research team assumed that almost all stereotypical kidnappings were serious enough to be reported to and recorded by law enforcement. The sidebar on Methodology explains how the estimates were derived.

Adult Caretaker and Youth Household Surveys. The Household Survey interviews were designed to screen for potentially countable NISMART–2 episodes, collect demographic data on the household and its members, conduct indepth followup interviews specific to each type of episode being researched, and collect data on any actual or attempted sexual assaults that may have occurred during the episode. The Household Surveys screened for potential family abductions, nonfamily abductions, runaway/thrownaway episodes, and other missing child episodes that resulted from children being lost or injured or from benign misunderstandings.

Respondents were administered a set of 17 episode screening questions to determine their eligibility for an indepth followup interview designed to collect detailed data on each type of episode. The adult episode screening questions that led to a nonfamily abduction followup interview are presented in the Household Survey of Adult Caretakers sidebar. The youth version, administered to youth between the ages of 10 and 18, was essentially the same.

Law Enforcement Study. This study collected information from a nationally representative sample of law enforcement agencies by interviewing the key investigating officer in each of the qualifying stereotypical kidnapping cases handled by that agency in 1997. The purposes of the Law Enforcement Study (LES) were to estimate the number of child victims of stereotypical kidnappings during the study year, to learn about the investigation burden of such cases for law enforcement agencies, to describe the circumstances of these stereotypical kidnappings and the characteristics of their perpetrators and victims, and to determine the outcomes.

Examples of NISMART–2 Nonfamily Abductions

Nonfamily Abduction Examples That Are Not Stereotypical Kidnappings

A 17-year-old girl’s ex-boyfriend forced her from her parked car, threw her into his car, and took her to a shopping mall parking lot where he detained her by force for 4 hours. The girl’s mother became alarmed when her daughter’s employer called to see why the girl had not shown up for work. Upon receiving the call from the employer, the mother drove to the girl’s workplace, saw her abandoned car, then called the police to locate the missing child. (Caretaker and reported missing)

A 14-year-old boy was hunting in a park when a strange man appeared, claiming that the boy was trespassing on his property. This was not the case. Nonetheless, the “ property owner” detained the boy at gunpoint and forced him to remove his outer garments to see if he had any weapons other than his shotgun. Then, the “property owner” forced the boy into the woods at gunpoint. When the boy did not return home on time, the caretaker became alarmed and tried to find him. When the boy returned home, the police and the park warden were contacted. (Caretaker missing)

A 4-year-old boy was taken on a 20-mile joyride by the schoolbus driver after the rest of the children had been dropped off at their homes. No force or threat was used to transport or detain the child; however, the bus driver concealed the child’s whereabouts. When the child did not come home at the usual time, the alarmed caretaker called the school and bus company to locate the child. Then, upon finding out where the child was, the caretaker contacted the police to recover the child. This episode lasted 7 hours. (Caretaker missing)

A babysitter refused to let three children, ages 4, 7, and 10, go home until she was paid for prior babysitting. The babysitter detained the children against their will and did not allow the alarmed caretaker to contact the children because she did not answer the phone. When the babysitter finally answered the phone, she lied, telling the caretaker that the children were on their way home. The caretaker called the police to recover the children from a known location. (Not missing)

A 17-year-old girl was on a date with a long-term acquaintance (a 17-year-old boy) who took her in a car to a dark, secluded area on a mountain, where he tried to rape her. The girl was detained by force and sexually assaulted. In this case, the caretaker was not concerned nor did she call the police because she figured the girl would come home. (Not missing)

A 13-year-old girl was hanging out with “bad kids” ( according to her caretaker) and grabbed by a 17-year-old male friend (not a romantic friend) who tried to sexually assault her. The perpetrator used threats and force to take her to his home, where he used force to detain her. The police were called for a reason other than to locate or recover the child. (Not missing)

A 9-year-old girl was lured into the perpetrator’s camper trailer with an offer of candy. The perpetrator, a 35-year-old male, detained the child by force in the trailer for an hour while he sexually assaulted her. The police were called for a reason other than to locate or recover the child, and the perpetrator was arrested. (Not missing)

A 15-year-old girl was lured by a friend into the hallway at school, then pushed 25 feet into the boys’ bathroom by some older boys who detained her by force and sexually assaulted her before she managed to escape screaming. The school contacted the police to report the crime and the boys were arrested. (Not missing)

A 10-year-old girl was lured with candy and money by an 85-year-old male neighbor and long-term acquaintance into his home, where he sexually assaulted the child. The caretaker did not contact police because she said she had no concrete evidence and the child was not injured. (Not missing)

A 17-year-old boy was with a very recent male acquaintance at the perpetrator’s home. The perpetrator detained the boy for an hour by force and sexually assaulted him. The police were not called because the caretaker did not find out about the episode until more than a year later. (Not missing)

A 17-year-old girl was forcibly detained and sexually assaulted in a parking lot at a football game by a 25-year-old male who was an ordinary friend and long-term acquaintance. The police were not called because the girl did not tell her parents. The respondent in this interview was the victim’s older sister. (Not missing)

Examples of Stereotypical Kidnappings

A 12-year-old girl left home for a short jog, telling her mother she would be back in 20 minutes. That was the last time she was seen alive. The police were called to report her disappearance. A few weeks later, the body of the victim was discovered accidentally by a man and his son, who were walking their dog. Police believed that the perpetrator used a blitz attack and grabbed the victim while she was jogging to sexually assault her. (Caretaker and reported missing)

Two 14-year-old girls were spending the night together. In the evening, they walked 12 blocks to a store. The girls were walking back to the house when a car pulled up and two men jumped out, grabbed them, and forced them into the car. One perpetrator had a knife, and told the victims he would kill them. The perpetrators drove to a closed State park. One of the victims was taken out of the car and sexually assaulted. When the girls did not return that night, the police were contacted to report the girls missing. The next morning, a county deputy on a routine patrol of the closed park noticed the car and investigated. He rescued the two girls and apprehended one of the perpetrators. (Caretaker and reported missing)


The nonfamily abduction estimates are based on the combination of nonfamily abduction data collected in the NISMART–2 Household Surveys and the stereotypical kidnapping data collected in the Law Enforcement Study (LES).

The Household Surveys were conducted during 1999 using computer-assisted telephone interviewing methodology to collect information from a national sample of households. A total of 16,111 interviews were completed with an adult primary caretaker, resulting in an 80-percent cooperation rate among eligible households with children and a 61-percent response rate. The total number of children included in the Household Survey of Adult Caretakers was 31,787. Each primary caretaker who completed an interview was asked for permission to interview one randomly selected youth in the household ages 10–18. Permission was granted to interview 60 percent of the randomly selected youth, and 95 percent completed an interview, yielding 5,015 youth interviews.

Both the adult and youth survey data were weighted to reflect the Census-based U.S. population of children. (For details about the weighting procedure and variance estimation, see OJJDP’s forthcoming NISMART–2 Household Survey Methodology Technical Report.)

The Household Surveys are limited because they may have undercounted children who experienced episodes but were living in households without telephones or were not living in households during the study period, including street children and homeless families. Although these are not large populations in comparison to the overall child population, they may be at risk for episodes.

The LES sample included all law enforcement agencies serving a nationally representative sample of 400 counties. Counties were selected with probabilities proportional to the size of their child populations. There were 400 county sheriff departments and 3,765 municipal police departments serving these counties, for a total sample of 4,165 law enforcement agencies.

Data were collected in two phases. In the first phase, a mail survey was sent to all law enforcement agencies in the sample. This questionnaire asked whether the agency had any stereotypical kidnappings open for investigation during the 1997 calendar year. The response rate for the mail survey was 91 percent. Agencies that reported any stereotypical kidnappings in the mail survey were contacted again in the second phase of data collection, and an extensive followup telephone interview was conducted with the key investigating officer for each case. Data collection was completed for 99 percent of the cases targeted for followup interviews.

Incorporating both phases of the LES, the combined response rate for the study was 91 percent. LES case weights were developed to reflect the probability of the agency and case having been included in the sample and to adjust for nonresponse and refusals.

Data from the Household Surveys and LES were integrated to construct unified estimates of the number of child victims of nonfamily abductions. Two key principles guided this integration:

    Principle 1: To combine episode data within a study, each sampled child could be counted only once in the unified estimate.

    Principle 2: To unify episode data across studies, a given subgroup of children could be represented by the data from one study only.

Beginning with the data from the Household Survey of Adult Caretakers, children who qualified as having been victims of nonfamily abduction on the basis of any countable episode other than a stereotypical kidnapping were entered into the unified estimate of nonfamily abducted children. In accordance with the first principle previously described, children who were reported as victims of nonfamily abduction in both the adult and youth interviews were counted only once in the unified estimate. In accordance with the second principle previously described, only the LES data were used as the source for the stereotypical kidnapping estimates because no reliable estimate could be developed from the Household Surveys for this rare subset of nonfamily abducted children.

As noted at the beginning of the Bulletin, the NISMART–2 Household Surveys and Law Enforcement Study spanned the years 1997–99, and all data in each of the individual component studies were collected to reflect a 12-month period. The study years are 1999 for the Household Surveys and 1997 for the Law Enforcement Study. Because the vast majority of nonfamily abducted children were from the studies concentrated in 1999, the annual period referred to in this Bulletin is 1999.

A detailed description of the unified estimate methodology is provided in OJJDP’s forthcoming Unified Estimate Methodology Technical Report, and details on the findings of the LES are provided in OJJDP’s forthcoming Research Report, Stereotypical Kidnappings: National Estimates and Case Profiles.

Household Survey of Adult Caretakers: Nonfamily Abduction Episode Screening Questions

The Household Survey of Adult Caretakers episode screening questions used to determine whether a nonfamily abduction followup interview would be conducted are presented below.

  • Was there any time when anyone tried to take [this child/any of these children] away from you against your wishes?

  • Was there any time when anyone tried to sexually molest, rape, attack, or beat up [this child/any of these children]?

  • In the past 12 months, has anyone attacked or threatened [this child/any of these children] in any of these ways:

    – With any weapon, for instance, a gun or knife?

    – With anything like a baseball bat, frying pan, scissors, or stick?

    – By something thrown, such as a rock or bottle?

    – Including any grabbing, punching, or choking?

    – Any rape, attempted rape, or other type of sexual attack?

    – Any face-to-face threats?

    – Any attack or threat or use of force by anyone at all?

Something that happens to some children these days is that adults or other youth try to force or trick them into doing something sexual. This includes trying to touch the child’s private parts or trying to make the child touch or look at the other person’s private parts. Children report that these kinds of things happen with people they know well or trust, such as teachers or relatives.

  • In the past 12 months, has there been a time when an older person, such as an adult, an older teenager, or a babysitter, deliberately touched or tried to touch your child’s private parts or tried to make your child touch or look at their private parts when your child did not want it?

  • [Has/have] [this child/any of these children] been forced or coerced to engage in unwanted sexual activity by someone [he/she/they] did not know before, a casual acquaintance, or someone [he knows/she knows/they know] well?

  • Has anyone ever kidnapped or tried to kidnap [this child/any of these children]?

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Nonfamily Abducted Children: National Estimates and Characteristics
NISMART Bulletin
October 2002