Statistics & NISMART 2 Studies

NISMART 2 Study — October 2002

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NISMART Questions and Answers
National Estimates of Missing Children: An Overview
Children Abducted by Family Members: National Estimates and Characteristics
Non family Abducted Children: National Estimates and Characteristics
Runaway/Thrownaway Children: National Estimates and Characteristics

According to the 1999 NISMART-2 research study:

  • The largest number of missing children are "runaways;" followed by "lost, injured, or otherwise missing children;" then "family abductions;" and finally, the smallest category, but the one in which the child is at greatest risk of injury or death, "non family abductions."
  • In 1999, an estimated 1,315,600 children met the criteria for being classified as caretaker missing, i.e., their caretakers did not know their whereabouts and were alarmed for at least 1 hour while trying to locate them.
  • Among these missing children, an estimated 797,500 (or on average 2,000 per day) met the additional criterion for being classified as reported missing, i.e., the caretaker contacted the police or a missing children's agency to help locate the child. This is equivalent to a rate of 11.4 children per 1,000 in the U.S. population.

These 797,500 cases break down as follows:

Attempted Non family abductions = 12,100

  • Attempted abductions, for example luring of a child for the purposes of committing another crime. Coerced and unauthorized taking of a child into a building, a vehicle, or a distance of more than 20 feet, the detention of a child for a period of more than one hour.

Family abductions. = 56,500

  • A child was taken in violation of a custody agreement or degree, failed to return a child at the end of a legal or agreed-upon visit, with the child being away at least overnight. An attempt was made to conceal the taking, or the whereabouts of a child, or to prevent contact with the child. The child is transported out of state, or there is evidence that the abductor had the intent to keep the child indefinitely, or to permanently alter custodial privileges.

Runaway/Thrownaway children = 357,600

  • Runaways — Children that have left home without permission and stayed away overnight and during the course of their runaway episodes, were without a secure and familiar place to stay. These also include children who have run away from a juvenile facility.
  • Thrownaways — These are children who have experienced any of the following situations:
    • The child was told to leave the household.
    • The child was away from home and the parent/guardian refused to allow the child back.
    • The child ran away, but the parent/guardian made no effort to recover the child, or did not care whether or not the child returned.
    • The child was abandoned or deserted.
    • Lost, Injured, or Otherwise Missing
    • Children missing for varying periods of time, depending on their age, disability, and whether the absence was due to an injury.
    • Parental Kidnapping / Family Abductions

Missing involuntary, lost, or injured = 61,900

  • A missing involuntary, lost, or injured episode occurs when a child's whereabouts are unknown to the child's caretaker and this causes the caretaker to be alarmed for at least 1 hour and try to locate the child, under one of two conditions: (1) the child was trying to get home or make contact with the caretaker but was unable to do so because the child was lost, stranded, or injured; or (2) the child was too young to know how to return home or make contact with the caretaker.

Missing benign explanation = 340,500

  • A missing benign explanation episode occurs when a child's whereabouts are unknown to the child's caretaker and this causes the caretaker to (1) be alarmed, (2) try to locate the child, and (3) contact the police about the episode for any reason, as long as the child was not lost, injured, abducted, victimized, or classified as runaway/thrownaway.

Additional Facts:

  • 115 children were the victims of "stereotypical" kidnapping. These crimes involve someone the child does not know or slight acquaintance, who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.
  • 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.
  • The Department of Justice study says about 200 to 300 kidnappings per year involve children taken overnight, transported to another location and killed.
  • 85 to 90 percent of the 876,213 persons reported missing in 2000 were children – a 469 percent increase from the 154,341 reported in 1982
  • In 80% of abductions by strangers, the first contact occurs within a quarter mile of the child's home. In many cases, the abduction does too. – 1990 U.S. Justice Department