Stereotypical? An overview of non-family adbuction in the United States

What do you think of when you read or hear about a kidnapping? Notorious cases like the Lindbergh kidnapping of the 1930s or of little Adam Walsh who was taken from a Florida store and killed? Cases where the victim is taken a long distance away and held for ransom or where the kidnapper intends to keep or kill him?

When most people think of abduction, they usually think in these terms. Such kidnappings are called stereotypical kidnappings. As terrible as they are, the approximate 200 to 300 Stereotypical Kidnappings that occur each year constitute a relatively small fraction of the total number of actual and attempted abductions.

According to the Department of Justice's first comprehensive study on missing children in the United States, much more common are cases called Legal Definition Non-Family Abductions. In 1988 as many as 4,600 abductions and more than 100,000 attempted abductions occurred.

Stereotypical Kidnapping requires that 1) the child be gone overnight; 2) be killed; 3) transported a distance of 50 miles or more; 4) be ransomed; or 5) that the perpetrator evidence an intent to keep the child permanently. The perpetrator also must be a stranger.

Although the laws defining Legal Definition Non-Family Abductions vary from state to state, in general, such abductions are defined as the 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 an hour; or the luring of a child for the purposes of committing another crime. Many short-term abductions take place during the commission of another crime, such as sexual assault.

According to the study, in 1988, "Teenagers and girls were the most common victims of Non-Family Abduction. In Legal Definition Abductions, half the victims were 12 or older and three-quarters of the victims were girls. Blacks and Hispanics were heavily over represented among victims compared to the U.S. population."

Two-thirds or more of these abductions involved sexual assault. A majority of victims were abducted from the street. More than 855 involved force, and more than 755 involved a weapon. Most episodes lasted less than a whole day, while 12 to 21 percent lasted less than an hour. In 14 to 21 percent of the cases reported, the child was injured as a result of the abduction, the study continues.

"An estimated 114,600 attempted abductions were reported, all involving strangers. "Most of these consisted of an attempt by a passing motorist to lure a child into a car, and no actual harm or even coercion against the child occurred."

Authors of the Justice Department report believe that the estimate for Legal Definition Non-Family Abduction may be low. A number of these abductions may never be reported to police because the victims of these assaults or rapes are ashamed or intimidated.