In the United States of America, every 40 seconds, a child gets abducted or goes missing. In most of these situations, the cases resolve within a few hours. However, there are cases when a child goes missing, for a prolonged period, sometimes permanently.
According to the Missing Children's Act, 1982, a missing child is defined as "any person younger than 18 whose whereabouts are unknown to their legal custodian, usually when the circumstances indicate the child was removed without the legal custodian's control or consent."
Kidnapping means taking away a person and holding them in captivity. It is one of the most vicious crimes. Irrespective of the level of development, this issue affects all the countries globally. The statistics about kidnappings are unfortunate. The majority of victims abducted by strangers end up getting killed soon after the abduction.
In the past years, the thoughts about crime in the United States have changed. The motives for the crimes and the harm done to the victims have been unimaginable. There has been an elevation in the number of kidnappings over the twentieth century. The concern towards child's safety and the anxiety about the vulnerability of children in today's world is at its peak. Child abduction is a crime deeply entangled in the world today.
When a child doesn't return home from school or park, it is their parent's worst nightmare. Unfortunately, statistics show that this nightmare turned to be true. There have been cases of abductions when the children got kidnapped and never came home again. The thought that their child will get abducted doesn't let parents sleep peacefully at night. It creates frightful fears in the minds of parents and children. Whether done by a family member or by a stranger with unknown motives, child abduction can have very tortuous and disturbing effects on the victim. The dangers in the modern world encourage the thought that parents should be even more alert to defend their children against abduction and kidnappings.
According to Child Find of America, approximately 2300 children are reported missing in the United States daily. In 2020 itself, an estimate of 400000 juveniles got abducted. Though there have been enormous improvements in the recovery of missing children, especially in developed countries, it doesn't undermine the alarming facts about child abduction.
Stranger abductions happen when someone who is not the child's relative abducts a child without lawful authority or the permission of parents to keep the child permanently. It accounts for 28% of the total kidnappings of children. It is considered to be a more serious crime as it can be potentially life threatening to the child who has been abducted by a stranger. Non-family abductions are different from stereotypical kidnappings in which the abduction is committed by a stranger or an acquaintance, and the child is transported for 50 or more miles, confined for at least one night, kept for ransom, and in the most extreme cases, sexually assaulted or killed. Law enforcement departments prioritize such offenses and allocate ample resources to locate and recover the children abducted by strangers. Here are some statistics about stranger abductions, from Child Find Of America.
Scienceleadership.org shows the statistics for the abductions by the percentages of who the abductor is in non-family abductions.
Family abduction is committed by one of the child's parents or other family members. The parents of the abducted child could be involved in controversial divorce or custody procedures. In family abduction, the child may be kept by a parent longer than the allotted visiting period. The parent may also pick the child from the daycare or school and not return them. In such cases, the child may go with the parent and the teachers or daycare providers may not realize that the child is being abducted. Family abductions may also involve another family member kidnapping the child and physically or sexually abusing them. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, around 200,000 of the 260,000 children abducted each year are seized by a parent or family member. Such type of abductions are very severe crimes and can have destructive impacts on children and the whole family. Following are some statistics about family abductions.
The NISMART Survey, 2002-Dept. of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency shows statistics about the ages of the child abducted in family abductions.
The survey also shows the relation between the victim and the abductor in family abductions.
Child abductions or kidnappings by strangers are the most difficult to predict. But, parents and guardians can reduce the risk of child abductions by identifying some signs.
First, let us understand why stranger abductions may occur. It is very difficult to determine the actual reason for abduction until the child is found. However, almost all of the cases are driven by any of the following reasons:
Young people and children nowadays use social media platforms to communicate with their friends and make new ones. However, several online predators interact with children, leading to real-life contacts and serious crimes. Let's dive into the statistics from the Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center.
According to the investigations of the FBI, child abductors can use social media platforms, and networks to initiate contact and gain information about a child before the abduction. In some cases, children are groomed online and lured to meet the abductor in person, leading them to be taken away forcefully. Since the internet is available to all groups, potential abductors pretend to be someone of the victim's age group, creating a false relationship online. For most social media platforms, the minimum age for using the websites is 13 years old, but children can find several ways to use the platform. Open Source research shows that 22% of teenagers log into their social media accounts more than 10 times a day. And about 50% of the children log in at least once a day. Factors such as peer pressure and limited understanding, make children highly vulnerable to falling prey to child abductors while using social media.
Though the number of child abductions in which the offenders use social media for contacting the victims is less, the risk of detecting them immediately is also much lower. The FBI expects that the percentage of child abductions through contact initiated online will increase in the future.
The following statistics from Missingkids.org show the trends in the increase in the cases of online enticement.
In the year 2020, the rate of incidents involving online enticement has increased by 97.5%.
According to a report by NISMART on children abducted by family members, fifty-three percent of family abductions of children were done by their biological father, and 25 percent by their biological mother. And shockingly 43% of the children who were abducted by family members were not considered to be missing by their caretakers because the whereabouts of the children were known or they were not alarmed by the situation.
As per a study published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention title as Early Identification of Risk Factors for Parental Abduction, here are the profiles of parents who are likely to abduct their child:
Profile 1: In this profile, a parent has given prior threats of abducting the child or has a history of hiding, snatching, or preventing visits to the other parent. In such cases, there is mistrust between parents, and the chances of custody violations are higher. The abduction and of the child and fleeing away could be in the cases when:
Profile 2: In this profile, the parent believes that their child is being abused, and the friends and family members support this suspicion. Several parents seize their children because they think that the other parent is not taking care of the child well. They even believe that their child is being molested, abused, and neglected. The parents abducting their child feel that the officials haven't investigated their allegations. Assuming that abuse has occurred and will continue to happen, such people abduct the child to rescue them with the help of their supporters. Such supporters may include family, friends, or underground networks that help the abducting parents to hide safely and survive, or in some instances, get new identities. In the cases when the parent abductor belongs to this profile, the abduction can psychologically harm the other parent and the child, possibly leaving their relationship in the necessity of serious repair.
Profile 3: In such cases, the parent is paranoid. Though only a small percentage of parent abductors fall into this profile, there is a higher risk of harm to the child, sometimes even leading to death. Parents who are paranoid hold irrational delusions that the other parent will harm the child. They may also feel betrayed by their partner and have an urgent need to take necessary steps to protect themselves and their child. Psychotic parents don't consider the child to be a separate person. They think that the child is a part of themselves, a victim. So they take action to rescue their child. In other cases, psychotic parents may think the child to be a part of other parents who they detest. In such cases, they may abandon the child or even kill them. The psychotic parent offenders who abduct their child are generally triggered by marital separation or custodial conflicts. It may not only result in parental abduction but also homicide.
Profile 4: The parent abductor belonging to this profile is sociopathic. The parents in this category have a history of outrageous violations of the law and hatred for officials of the legal system. They are highly manipulative and exploitative. Such people are likely to hold beliefs about their superiority and are satisfied by controlling others. The child abducting parents in this profile often use their children as a means of revenge or as trophies in the fight with their partners. Sociopathic parents don't hesitate in abducting, controlling, and abusing their children. They also believe that they should be punished for their actions. Like paranoia, this profile is rare to diagnose.
Profile 5: A parent who is a citizen of another country ends marriage with the citizen of another country, and has strong connections to their family in the country of origin, have been recognized as potential parent abductors. The risk of child abduction is very less at the time of divorce. Eventually, they may need to return to their country of origin to find emotional support. In such cases, the parent may abduct the child and take them along to their country. Through this way, the abducting parent provides their cultural identity to the child.
Profile 6: Parent abductors belonging to this profile feel alienated from the legal system and have support from other communities. Such abductors fall into the following five subgroups:
Child abduction, whether it's family or stranger abduction, may be a traumatic experience for a child and can leave a deep impact for a lifetime. The children who have been maltreated during abduction are likely to manifest a variety of social and psychological handicaps. It makes the victim vulnerable to outside influences and undergoes conditions such as depression, anger, loss of trust, etc. Let's dive into some of the problems that a victim of child abduction may not go away with time:
Most of the phobias found in children are extreme and aren't due to external factors. The fears of situations that aren't harmful may be due to fantasies and thoughts. But these thoughts when paired with real-life things may produce fear. When a child is abducted by a parent, almost everything familiar to them gets taken away, including a parent, friends, teachers, house, toys, personal items, etc. Going into a completely new environment without any preparation and the fear of future events, physical and emotional safety can become excessive. Most of the time, the victims aren't able to deal with the threats and the child may develop even more fears and anxiety.
In the case of a child, it might be difficult to understand the guilt felt by them. Victims of child abductions and survivors of sexual abuse may feel guilty due to several reasons. They might feel guilty for feeling pleasure, or for legal consequences to the perpetrator especially if the abductor is known to them. In the cases of divorce and family abductions, a child may feel responsible for the division of the family.
When abducted, the child may have to undergo punishment even without doing anything wrong. The child victim may not even know why he or she has been abducted and have no control over what's happening. Though the child might be feeling extremely angry, and frustrated but the helplessness to do anything may lead to complete desolation. Such children come to believe that they are helpless to control any situation, so they do not try, even when they have a chance.
The victims of child abduction and sexual abuse may show symptoms of acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. A person may suffer from such a condition when they experience events that involve a serious injury or a threat to their physical integrity, or when their response involves excessive fear, horror, or helplessness. The symptoms of such a condition include anxiety, sleeping problems, poor concentration, etc. Most of the time, the daily functioning of the individual is also disturbed and they might not be able to carry out necessary tasks.
Comprehensive research findings show that stress from childhood trauma may harm biological and mental health. Extended stress has been documented to modify cardiovascular systems, hormonal systems, and immune systems. Visible stress symptoms may occur much later in life when the child becomes an adult. In children, extensive stress may result in behaviors like bedwetting, clinginess, excessive crying, etc.
Other common responses in the victims of child abduction include nightmares, avoidance of reminders of the incident, or repeated imitations of the trauma. Most of the time, anxiety and unrest might be misunderstood as behavioral problems. These symptoms might be temporary for the while, but must be treated whenever they occur.
As a parent, it is essential to pay attention to the following types of people:
Teaching kids to be alert and aware of strangers may fill them with anxiety or fear. Communicating with the children from time to time, talking about their safety, and teaching them to avoid and escape potentially dangerous situations is very essential. Right from a very early age, the following points should be told to the children.
Along with teaching the above things to the child, also do the following:
For parents, it is always wise to stay alert.
Opposite to the common belief, most child abductions don't involve force. The abductors befriend the child and lure him or her to go with them. Considering the perpetrator to be a friendly person, the child goes along with them. Researches have revealed that without any abduction prevention training, almost all preschoolers or children tend to walk away with strangers. Children who aren't supervised by any adult become easy targets for the abductors. And because there might be instances when parents can't oversee their children all the time, children must have the knowledge and skills to react cautiously in any potential situation of abduction.
In abduction prevention training, the following three actions are important to perform by the child, when lured by the abductor:
Most of the training programs focus on mastering children in the above three responses. Verbal responses include verbal denial to go by saying "No," or "No, I should ask my parents." This response can allow a prompt escape from the encounter with the potential abductor and doesn't offend an innocent individual.
The motor response includes running or walking away from the stranger right after verbal action. The child should be taught to run towards home or school, depending on where they are. The motor response is considered one of the most crucial actions to prevent abduction because staying near the kidnapper could be very dangerous for the child. The third action is the reporting response in which the child tells about the incident to a trusted adult such as a parent or a teacher. Once an adult knows what has happened, they may become alert to critical situations and be cautious. They may also take precautionary actions such as informing the police and supervising the other children too.
Abduction prevention skills can be taught to the children through Behavioural Skills Training. It involves educating the children, modeling, practicing, praising, and giving valuable feedback to them in a group or individually. According to a study review, children can learn skills to prevent abduction through Behavioural Skills Training. And when children were assessed in real-life situations when they didn't know that they were being assessed, the children demonstrated those skills. (source: Abduction Prevention Training: A Review of Findings and Issues for Future Research, www.jstor.org )
Children are likely to fall prey to online predators and groomers. Since the internet and social media platforms are accessible to people of every age, it is essential to ensure the online safety of children. Here is how you can do it:
According to the June 2016 report of the Office of Justice Programs’ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the number of abductions by strangers, or acquaintances, has remained constant, but the number of victims recovered has increased. Citing research by a team in New Hampshire which compares data from 1997 and 2011, 92% of child victims were recovered in 2011 as compared to 57% in 1997.
With the advancement in technology, the success rates in recovering children have increased. With GPS that allows location tracking, smartphones help the authorities and officials to solve crimes. The OJJDP also said that technologies such as the internet and cell phones helped law enforcement agencies to solve 66% of the stranger kidnapping cases in 2011.
The advancing technology has also encouraged innovation, resulting in the creation of tools and devices that contribute to the protection of children from abduction. Let us look into some of the devices and gadgets that can add an extra layer of safety in child protection:
AMBER Alert is an alert system that activates when a child is abducted. When issuing AMBER alerts, the law enforcement authorities along with cell service providers, broadcasters, and transport companies will circulate crucial information about the missing children or the abductor. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. Over the years, AMBER alerts have become a very important medium in recovering missing or abducted children.
AMBER alerts are broadcasted through radio and television stations, and cell phone and electronic traffic signs. Such alerts include the name, age, and description of the abducted child. It may also include any information about the suspect such as the person's description, license plate number of the vehicle, etc.
In the USA, every state uses a type of AMBER alert system. The guidelines about activation of the system are issued by the United States Department of Justice. The following conditions should be satisfied to issue an AMBER alert:
However, many law enforcement agencies have decided to not apply the second criteria, which is about the risk of bodily injury to the child or death. Hence, in parental abductions, where the child may not be in danger, AMBER alerts can be issued.
According to the United States Department of Justice, 800 children have been rescued with the help of AMBER alerts. They also say that AMBER alerts act as an obstacle in the path of potential child abductions and some abductors may release a child after knowing that an AMBER alert has been activated. Around 75% of the children who are abducted by strangers are murdered within the first three hours of kidnapping. Hence, AMBER alerts are intended to inform the public immediately whenever a child has been abducted.
With GPS tracking devices, any objects can be tracked. Attaching a GPS tracker to a child enables the parents to ensure that the child has reached the school, home, or any other place safely.
Attaching a GPS device to your child and linking it to cell phones allows tracking of the location and allows the monitoring of speed of movement. Mounting a camera along with a GPS in a vehicle will show not only the location but also around the place. Modern GPS trackers also allow geofencing. When the child goes beyond the safe area marked by the parents, it immediately sends an alert. Also, in the case of trouble, the child can press the SOS button in the tracker to notify parents about the same.
GPS trackers are very easy to carry. They can be clipped on the bag or can be worn on the wrist. The information about the child's whereabouts can be seen on a phone application. All of that monitoring informs the parents about whether the child has reached school or home, or they are roaming near the house. But it is essential that the device remains attached to the child. In most cases of potential child abduction, the perpetrators identify the trackers attached to children and get rid of them. It shouldn't be apparent to the kidnaper or the abductor that the child is wearing a gadget. Choosing for safety devices disguised as other objects such as watches, pens, price tags, accessories, etc drops the chances of the abductor recognizing the device and throwing it away.
Child abduction alarms are very useful devices to monitor a child and ensure their safety in public places. Sometimes while playing or in a park, children, especially toddlers, go far away without the knowledge of their parents. With a child abduction alarm, parents can stop the child from going away too far. This device consists of a transmitter that is around the child's neck and a receiver that is with the parent. The parents can set a range for the children, possibly anywhere between 6 to 30 feet. If they go beyond the distance, the receiver will get an alert and the parent can check on the child. Such devices are of great use if parents want to monitor their child without running behind them every now and then.
In the United States of America, significant steps have been taken to prevent child abductions. Still, the cases of kidnappings and abductions are nowhere near stopping. The alarming statistics of child abductions and the dreadful impact of kidnapping on the victim and their family send shivers down the spine. It has become an utmost priority of the parents to protect their children from potential abductors and ensure their safety no matter where they are.
Practically, parents can't stay with their children all the time. Thinking about a child's safety makes the parents feel scared. Sometimes parents also experience high levels of stress and anxiety. However, a lot of danger can be avoided by preparing the children for the potential situation of abductions. Parents must talk to the children about the seriousness of the condition and teach them what to do if potential abductors try to lure them. Abductions Prevention Training programs provide children with knowledge and skills to stay alert and react cautiously in any situation. Teaching children about responding through words, and actions, not only prevents potential abduction but also makes parents more vigilant.
Technology acts as a boon in today's world. It helps the law enforcement agencies to locate the abducted children and parents to monitor their children. Internet technology and cell phones have helped in locating the victims of child abductions. Whereas AMBER Alert systems intended to inform the public about the details of victims and kidnappers have helped in rescuing hundreds of abducted children. Nowadays, technologies like GPS trackers and child abduction alarms allow parents to watch over their children and know their whereabouts.
Learning about the safety of children through internet communication technology provides a sigh of relief. Abduction training programs and child safety devices are worth every penny of investment to protect the children from potential abductions. In this world where crimes are increasing, leverage the power of technology to add an extra layer of protection to a child's safety.