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Results

An estimated 58,200 children were abducted by a nonfamily perpetrator in the study year, including an estimated 115 victims of stereotypical kidnappings (table 1). As expected, the number of stereotypical kidnapping victims reported in the Household Surveys was not sufficient to produce a reliable estimate of their incidence from that source; therefore, all of the data on this subset of victims come from the LES. In the following discussion, which describes all nonfamily abducted children and the subset of child victims of stereotypical kidnappings, those who experienced stereotypical kidnappings are such a small part of the overall category that they barely influence the aggregate patterns.

Table 1: Estimates of Nonfamily Abducted Children

Category Estimate 95% Confidence
Interval*
Percent
All nonfamily abduction victims 58,200 (24,100–92,400) 100
Caretaker missing 33,000 (2,000–64,000) 57
Reported missing 12,100§ (<100–31,000) 21

Stereotypical kidnapping victims 115 (60–170) 100
Caretaker/reported missing 90 (35–140) 78

Note: Estimates for caretaker missing and reported missing should not be summed because the categories are not mutually exclusive.

* The 95-percent confidence interval indicates that if the study were repeated 100 times, 95 of the replications would produce estimates within the ranges noted.

Whereabouts unknown to caretaker, caretaker was alarmed and tried to locate child.

Missing children whose parents or caretakers have reported them to authorities in order to help locate them.

§ Estimate is based on an extremely small sample of cases; therefore, its precision and confidence interval are unreliable.

Stereotypically kidnapped children were classified as reported missing if the police were notified by someone who discovered the child was missing or someone who witnessed the abduction. Among the stereotypical kidnapping victims, caretaker missing children are the same children as those reported missing.

The diagram illustrates the proportional relationship between the total number of nonfamily abducted children and the number of these children who were caretaker missing and reported missing. It also shows that children who were reported missing are a subset of those who were caretaker missing.
The diagram illustrates the proportional relationship between the total number of nonfamily abducted children and the number of these children who were caretaker missing and reported missing. It also shows that children who were reported missing are a subset of those who were caretaker missing.

According to the NISMART–2 definitions, an estimated 57 percent of all child victims of nonfamily abduction (approximately 33,000 children) were missing from their caretakers in the study year. (See table 1 and the accompanying diagram.) Moreover, an estimated 21 percent of all nonfamily abducted children (approximately 12,100) were also reported to law enforcement as missing. (Unfortunately, both of these numerical estimates are quite imprecise and could actually be quite a bit smaller or larger because they are based on very small numbers of cases.) Stereotypically kidnapped children in this study were considerably more likely to be caretaker missing and reported as missing compared with nonfamily abducted children overall, with 78 percent of victims of stereotypical kidnappings reported missing. Because the estimates are based entirely on cases reported to law enforcement, the estimate for the number of stereotypically kidnapped children who were missing from their caretakers does not include any children who were kidnapped and not reported to the police. Such children may exist; however, given the seriousness of stereotypical kidnapping episodes, they are presumed to be extremely rare.

Recent, notorious nonfamily abductions have often involved quite young children, such as 5-year-old Samantha Runnion of Orange County, CA. However, young children, despite the publicity accorded their abduction, are not the most frequent victims of nonfamily abduction. Eighty-one percent of nonfamily abducted children and 58 percent of stereotypical kidnapping victims were age 12 or older (table 2). Nonfamily abduction victims overall were particularly concentrated among the oldest groups, with 59 percent being 15–17 years old.

Table 2: Characteristics of Nonfamily Abducted Children

Characteristic of Child
All Nonfamily
Abduction
Victims (n = 58,200)
Stereotypical
Kidnapping
Victims (n = 115)
Percent of
U.S. Child
Population*
(N= 70,172,700)
Percent
Estimate
Percent
Estimate
Age (years)
0–5 7 4,300 19 20 33
6–11 12 6,800 24 25 34
12–14 22 13,000 38 45 17
15–17 59 34,100 20 20 17
Gender
Male 35 20,300 31 35 51
Female 65 37,900 69 80 49
Race/ethnicity
White, non-Hispanic 35 20,500 72 80 65
Black, non-Hispanic 42 24,500 19 20 15
Hispanic 23 13,200 8 10 16
Other <1 <100 2 <5 5
Region
Northeast <1 <100 n/a n/a 18
Midwest 33 19,300 n/a n/a 23
South 38 21,900 n/a n/a 35
West 29 16,900 n/a n/a 24
No information <1 100 100 115

Note: All estimates are rounded to the nearest 100. Percents may not sum to 100 because of rounding.

* Age, gender, and race for the U.S. population were based on the average monthly estimates of the population ages 0–17 years for 1999 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000a). The regional distribution of the population was computed from State-by-State estimates of the population ages 0–17 as of July 1, 1999 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000b).

Estimate is based on too few sample cases to be reliable.

n/a = not available.

Girls were the predominant victims of nonfamily abductions overall and of stereotypical kidnappings as well (65 percent and 69 percent, respectively), reflecting the frequency of sexual assault as a motive for many nonfamily abductions.

Black children appear to be disproportionately represented among the victims of nonfamily abductions but not among stereotypical kidnapping victims. However, this disproportion is not large enough to exclude the possibility that it is a result of random factors in the sample selection. For similar reasons, the absence of any nonfamily abducted children from the Northeast cannot be considered conclusive evidence of lower rates in that region.

Because kidnapping prevention focuses on the danger of strangers, it may be surprising that the majority of nonfamily abduction victims (53 percent) are abducted by persons known to the child: 38 percent of nonfamily abducted children were abducted by a friend or long-term acquaintance, 5 percent by a neighbor, 6 percent by persons of authority, and 4 percent by a caretaker or babysitter (table 3). Strangers abducted 37 percent of the nonfamily abduction victims, and slight acquaintances (considered similar to strangers and including persons who were known but seen infrequently or who may have recently befriended a child or family in order to abduct the child) abducted 8 percent. Stereotypical kidnappings, consistent with the most publicized nonfamily abduction cases, are limited by definition to cases perpetrated by strangers and slight acquaintances.

Table 3: Characteristics of Nonfamily Abduction Perpetrators

Characteristic of Perpetrator Percent of All
Nonfamily Abduction
Victims (n = 58,200)
Percent of
Stereotypical
Kidnapping
Victims (n = 115)
Identity of main perpetrator
Friend
17*
Long-term acquaintance
21*
Neighbor
5*
Authority person
6*
Caretaker or babysitter
4*
Stranger
37*
71
Slight acquaintance
8*
29
Someone else
3*
More than one perpetrator
Yes
21*
48
No
79
41
No information
<1*
11*
Main perpetrator’s gender
Male
75
86
Female
25*
7*
No information
<1*
7*
Main perpetrator’s age (years)
13–19
25*
21
20–29
42*
36
30–39
12*
21
40–49
16*
7*
50–89
5*
4*
No information
<1*
10*

* Estimate based on too few sample cases to be reliable.

By definition, stereotypical kidnappings are limited to cases involving strangers and slight acquaintances.

About 1 in 5 victims of nonfamily abductions (21 percent) and almost half the victims of stereotypical kidnappings (48 percent) were abducted by multiple perpetrators (table 3). In instances of multiple perpetrators, episodes were classified according to the child’s relationship with the most closely related perpetrator. Thus, an abduction by a babysitter and her boyfriend, who was a stranger to the child, was classified as an abduction by a babysitter. Counting only the main perpetrators (and not the accomplices), 25 percent of the nonfamily abduction victims and 7 percent of the stereotypical kidnapping victims were abducted by females. Perpetrators in their twenties were the main abductors of 42 percent of all nonfamily abducted children and of 36 percent of children who were stereotypically kidnapped. Teenagers abducted 25 percent of all nonfamily abducted children.

Homes or yards were the origination point in only a minority of the abductions of all nonfamily abducted children (23 percent) and of those who were stereotypically kidnapped (19 percent) (table 4). Instead, streets, parks or wooded areas, and other public areas (i.e., generally accessible spaces) were the places from which children were typically abducted. While most of the nonfamily abducted children were moved or taken, 35 percent were detained in an isolated location for at least an hour. The majority of stereotypical kidnapping victims were detained in addition to being moved or taken.

Table 4: Characteristics of Nonfamily Abductions

Characteristic of Episode Percent of All
Nonfamily Abduction
Victims (n = 58,200)
Percent of
Stereotypical
Kidnapping
Victims (n = 115)
Child’s location prior to episode
Own home or yard
5*
16
Other home or yard
18*
3*
Street, car, or other vehicle
32*
40
Park or wooded area
25*
14*
Other public area
14*
n/a
School or daycare
5*
2*
Store, restaurant, or mall
<1*
8*
Other location
<1*
9*
No information
<1*
8*
Other episode characteristics
Child was taken or moved
70
95
Child was detained
35*
83

* Estimate is based on too few sample cases to be reliable.

n/a = not available.

When children were moved, the most common modes of conveyance were carrying the child, taking the child in a vehicle, and walking with the child (table 5). Most children were taken into vehicles (45 percent) or to the perpetrator’s home (28 percent) (table 5). Fourteen percent of the stereotypically kidnapped children were moved more than 50 miles.

Table 5: Details Related to the Movement of Nonfamily Abducted Children

Characteristic of Episode Percent of All
Nonfamily
Abduction
Victims (n = 40,600)*
Percent of
Stereotypical
Kidnapping
Victims (n = 105)*
How child was taken or moved
Carried
37
n/a
By vehicle
28
n/a
Walked
35
n/a
No information
<1
100
Where perpetrator took child
Vehicle
45
n/a
Perpetrator’s home
28
n/a
Building
13
n/a
Outside area
11
n/a
Other
2
n/a
No information
<1
100
Child was moved more than 50 miles
Yes
<1
14
No
100
86

* Percentages are computed from a baseline of the number of children who were moved.

Estimate is based on too few sample cases to be reliable.

n/a = not available.

Criminal assaults were a motive in most of the nonfamily abductions (table 6). Close to half of all nonfamily abduction victims and stereotypical kidnapping victims were sexually assaulted, while about a third were otherwise physically assaulted. Seven percent of the nonfamily abduction victims and 20 percent of the stereotypical kidnapping victims were robbed.

Table 6: Additional Crime Elements in Nonfamily Abductions

Characteristic of Episode Percent of All
Nonfamily
Abduction
Victims (n = 58,200)
Percent of
Stereotypical
Kidnapping
Victims (n = 115)
Perpetrator sexually assaulted child
46
49
Perpetrator physically assaulted child
31*
33
Perpetrator robbed child
7*
20
Perpetrator used a weapon
40*
49
Perpetrator demanded ransom
4*
5*

* Estimate is based on too few sample cases to be reliable.

Weapons were involved in abducting 40 percent of all nonfamily abduction victims and 49 percent of stereotypical kidnapping victims. Knives and guns were both frequently used. Ransom was demanded for 4 percent of all nonfamily abducted children and 5 percent of the subset who were stereotypically kidnapped.

A considerable quantity of information on the exact duration of the episodes was missing (32 percent of all nonfamily abducted children and 18 percent of stereotypical kidnapping victims) (table 7). Among those children with data on episode duration, 29 percent experienced nonfamily abductions that lasted 2 hours or less, and 10 percent had abductions that lasted 24 hours or more (table 7).

Table 7: Duration and Outcome of Nonfamily Abductions

Characteristic of Episode Percent of All
Nonfamily Abduction
Victims (n = 58,200)
Percent of
Stereotypical
Kidnapping
Victims (n = 115)
Duration of episode (hours)*
2 or less
29
8
3 to less than 24
62
83
24 or more
10
10
Episode outcomes
Child returned alive
99
57
   Returned child was injured
<1
32
Child was killed
<1
40
Child not returned and not located
<1
4

* Duration percentages are calculated using the number of children without missing data as the baseline. For nonfamily abductions, this number is 39,800. For stereotypical kidnappings, this number is 95.

Estimate based on too few sample cases to be reliable.

Stereotypical kidnappings were defined as episodes lasting overnight (unless there was a homicide, a ransom, or an intent to keep or transport the child 50 miles or more), so it is noteworthy that only 10 percent of stereotypical kidnapping victims had episodes lasting 24 hours or more. Only a very small minority (4 percent) of victims of the most serious stereotypical kidnappings had abductions that were not resolved at the time of data collection.

Nonetheless, 40 percent of stereotypical kidnapping victims were killed, in addition to the 4 percent who were still missing. An additional 32 percent of children who were stereotypically kidnapped received injuries requiring medical attention.

For 53 percent of all nonfamily abduction victims, police were not contacted about the episode for any reason, not even to report the crime (table 8). The reasons for not reporting suggest that some portion of these nonfamily abductions were not thought to involve serious threats to the child.

Table 8: Police Contact for Nonfamily Abductions

Characteristic of Episode Percent of All
Nonfamily
Abduction
Victims (n = 58,200)
Percent of
Stereotypical
Kidnapping
Victims (n = 115)
Any police contact
Yes
47*
100
No
53*
n/a
Reason police were not contacted
Expected child to return
12*
Lack of evidence
9*
Caretaker informed too long after abduction
3*
Child wanted to protect perpetrator
10*
Caretaker not told about abduction
10*
Episode was not serious enough
17*
No information
39*

* Estimate is based on too few sample cases to be reliable.

n/a = not available.

Percentages are computed from a baseline of 30,800, the number of children with no police contact.

The seasonal distribution of nonfamily abductions and stereotypical kidnappings indicates only that they occur less frequently in winter (table 9).

Table 9: Season of Nonfamily Abductions

Season of Episode Percent of All
Nonfamily
Abduction
Victims (n = 58,200)
Percent of
Stereotypical
Kidnapping
Victims (n = 115)
Winter
15*
9*
Spring
36*
28
Summer
30*
29
Fall
19*
33
No information
<1*
1*

*Estimate is based on too few sample cases to be reliable.



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