Missing Children Myths

Daniel D. Broughton
September 17, 2000

The statistics are well-publicized: 2,000 children are reported missing every day in this country; nearly 800,000 children disappear for at least a time every year; one in four girls and one in eight boys will be sexually exploited or abused before reaching adulthood.

Ever since Adam Walsh was abducted and murdered in 1981, we have been barraged with images of children taken, molested and sometimes murdered. But the realities behind the statistics are often misunderstood, in ways that lead to unnecessary fear on one hand, and dangerous complacency on the other.

For instance, of those nearly 800,000 children reported missing each year, 99 percent are found through law enforcement efforts, according to FBI statistics. That still leaves 8,000 to 10,000 missing despite a prolonged search�a frightening, but certainly far more manageable, number.

We know that the vast majority of those missing have been taken by a non-custodial parent, have run away, or have been thrown out of their homes. The number of children kidnapped by others is far smaller, though absolutely devastating in every case.

About 200 to 300 children are kidnapped in the classic sense each year, according to the National Incidence Study of Missing, Exploited, Runaway and Throwaway Children (NISMART). Another 3,200 to 4,600 are taken for shorter periods, have something done to them, often a sexual assault of some type, and are then released. This number could be two to five times higher than the NISMART estimate, some believe, because of underreporting to law enforcement.

Another 140,000 children who have not been taken or run away also disappear for long enough to be reported to the police, according to NISMART. While most of these episodes are relatively benign, 20 percent of these children are injured during the episode, with 14 percent being assaulted or abused.

We know child abduction and exploitation rank high on the list of most parents' concerns. It is important for parents, pediatricians, and others to understand the scope and importance of the issue. A number of misconceptions about missing children are worth exploring.

Myth #1: Young children are the most common victims of abduction and exploitation.
Actually, adolescents, especially girls, are the ones at greatest risk. The average victim of abduction and murder is an 11-year-old girl with a stable family relationship. First contact with her abductor usually occurs within a quarter-mile of her own home.

It is important that parents and adolescents understand the vulnerability of this age group. This is a time when most parents start to relax, thinking their children are finally old enough to take care of themselves. It is also a time when adolescents start exerting their independence. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Know the Rules campaign suggests teens be taught the importance of following three simple rules: always go places with a friend or friends; always tell an adult, preferably a parent, where you are going; and if it doesn't feel right, or is uncomfortable, don't do it.

Myth #2: Children abducted by parents are not at risk.
Sadly, children taken by parents are at risk. Parental kidnapping has often been viewed as a domestic issue of little concern to anyone else. But parents who abduct their own children are often acting out of desperation, attempting to wreak revenge and pain on the spouse left behind.

These children are uprooted from their routine with family, friends, school and church, and often live a life on the run with assumed names. They often do not receive proper medical attention or education. In essence, they lose half their heritage and most of their past. Parental kidnapping is a crime, a felony in almost every state.

Myth #3: It is unlikely that a missing child will be found as a result of someone recognizing a picture of the child.
In fact, pictures play a vital role in locating missing children. In a survey carried out by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, law enforcement officials identified pictures as the single most important tool in the search for a missing child. One out of six children featured in photo campaigns is found as a direct result of the photo. The public plays a tremendously important role in the search for missing children, and photographs are the critical link between the public and law enforcement.

Myth #4: Teaching children to beware of strangers is the most important step we can take to keep them safe from abduction.
The vast majority of children are abused, molested or exploited by people they know, or whom they do not consider strangers. According to NCMEC statistics, even in non-family abductions, most perpetrators were not considered to be strangers by the victim.

While it is reasonable to teach children to be cautious around strangers, as a safety message it is woefully inadequate. NCMEC advocates comprehensive personal safety education be included as part of the curriculum in every U.S. school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has joined NCMEC in developing and endorsing Guidelines for Programs to Reduce Child Victimization, a resource that will enable school districts to evaluate and choose the best program for their own area.

More information on missing children or child exploitation is available from NCMEC ( www.missingkids.com) or by calling 1-800-843-5678.

 


 

Reproduced by permission of AAP News, August 2000.


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Comments

Is there any missing people heat maps can I get and where ?

<p>I do have compassion for victims of horrible acts, and I support the death penalty against perpetrators of violent and sexual crime. &nbsp;I do not believe in spending $30,000 of our taxpayer dollars every year to meet the needs of those who have done harm.</p>
<p>But I also find that perpetuating paranoia is a form of psychological abuse that leads to crippling our childrens&; social development.</p>
<p>When the statistics are applied, the chance that one of your children will be abducted by a stranger is 0.003%. &nbsp;That number means zero to everyone outside the scientific community. &nbsp;Your child is safer unsupervised in a park than he or she is while supervised at church.</p>
<p>Please stop overprotecting your children. &nbsp;Children who break arms, get stitches and still go outside to play are happy, well developing people.</p>
<p>If you are still worried about your child&;s safety, ask your doctor about Zoloft.</p>

<p>regarding the comments: </p>
<p>You say "Myth : Teaching children to beware of strangers is the most important step we can take to keep them safe from abduction.<br />The vast majority of children are abused, molested or exploited by people they know, or whom they do not consider strangers. According to NCMEC statistics, even in non-family abductions, most perpetrators were not considered to be strangers by the victim."</p>
<p>Why do we waste millions of dollars and law enforcements time managing a SEX OFFENDER LIST, especially since it has been shown to be Ineffective, and especially not necessary for most level one and level 2 offenders... persons who pee in the park or download porn..</p>
<p>The money and time could be better used, than wasted with Megans Law, which simply doesnt work !</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>

The classic sense each year, according to the National Incidence Study of Missing, Exploited, Runaway and Throwaway Children (NISMART). Another 3,200 to 4,600 are taken for shorter periods, have something done to them, often a sexual assault of some type, and are then released.

You said "Myth : Children abducted by parents are not at risk.
Sadly, children taken by parents are at risk. Parental kidnapping has often been viewed as a domestic issue of little concern to anyone else. But parents who abduct their own children are often acting out of desperation, attempting to wreak revenge and pain on the spouse left behind.

These children are uprooted from their routine with family, friends, school and church, and often live a life on the run with assumed names. They often do not receive proper medical attention or education. In essence, they lose half their heritage and most of their past. Parental kidnapping is a crime, a felony in almost every state. "

I ask what percentage of children who are abducted by a noncustodial parent end with the child being murdered?

You say "Myth : It is unlikely that a missing child will be found as a result of someone recognizing a picture of the child.
In fact, pictures play a vital role in locating missing children. In a survey carried out by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, law enforcement officials identified pictures as the single most important tool in the search for a missing child. One out of six children featured in photo campaigns is found as a direct result of the photo. The public plays a tremendously important role in the search for missing children, and photographs are the critical link between the public and law enforcement."

I say yes the photos are the most important tool, but prove to me 1 out of 6 children who are recovered are as a direct result of the photos distributed. I would like actual numbers of photo campaigns vs actual cases that were solved as a result. Just because the NCMEC SAYS doesn&;t cut it. I have repeatedly asked for proven stats from the NCMEC.

You say "Myth : Teaching children to beware of strangers is the most important step we can take to keep them safe from abduction.
The vast majority of children are abused, molested or exploited by people they know, or whom they do not consider strangers. According to NCMEC statistics, even in non-family abductions, most perpetrators were not considered to be strangers by the victim."

I say However, of the children who are abducted AND murdered, Over half (57%) of these child abduction murders are committed by a killer who is a stranger to the victim. Family involvement in this type of case is infrequent (9%). However, the relationship between the victim and the killer varies with the gender and age of the victim. The youngest females, 1-5 years old, tend to be killed by friends or acquaintances (64%), while the oldest females, 16-17 years old, tend to be killed by strangers (also 64%). The relationship between the killer and victim is different for the male victims. The youngest male victims (1-5 years old) are most likely to be killed by strangers (also 64%), as are the teenage males (13-15 years old, 60% and 16-17 years old, 58%).

Just my two cents worth

Chris McElroy, President, Kidsearch Network
http://www.kidsearchnetwork.org

"We actually participate in the searches that people at the NCMEC gather statistics about."

I believe there is an error in the last graph of your info regarding common myths: at the end it says: "for more information on missing children or child exploitation is available from NCMEC (www.missingkinds.com) or by calling 1-800-843-5678." I think it supposed to say www.missingkids.com. The other link takes you to an irrelevant site. Thank you.

Thanks for catching that typo. The link underlying it was correct, but that URL certainly wasn&;t. We&;ve made the update, thanks to your keen reading!

- the Connect for Kids team