Monday, January 15, 2007
Raw Data: Kidnapping statistics
The discovery of the two missing boys in Missouri got some of us here at "360" wondering: Just how prevalent is kidnapping in the United States?

While researching this question today, I came across some interesting statistics. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (citing U.S. Department of Justice reports), nearly 800,000 children are reported missing each year. That's more than 2,000 a day.

The NCMEC says 203,000 children are kidnapped each year by family members. Another 58,200 are abducted by non-family members. Many others are runaways or pushed out of the home by parents.

Despite these huge numbers, very few children are victims of the kinds of crimes that so-often lead local and national news reports. According to NCMEC, just 115 children are the victims of what most people think of as "stereotypical" kidnapping, which the center characterizes thusly: "These crimes involve someone the child does not know or someone of 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."

Of these 115 incidents, 57 percent ended with the return of the child. The other 43 percent had a less happy outcome.
Posted By Gabe Falcon, CNN Writer: 6:04 PM ET
  15 Comments
Hi. I was writing an article on child care tips (the primary audience is low-income workers, but it is really applicable to many working parents) this weekend, and one of the tips I wrote is to give any babysitter/childcare center a one-pager with your contact info, three backup people in case of an emergency, pediatrician info, allergies, food restrictions, medical conditions, and medicines (including dosages, times, and how to give it). In the tip and accompanying one-page template, I also talked about how important it is to list everyone with whom the child could go home and mention if there are custody issues and anyone who might be a problem.

When investigating potential programs or schools, parents/guardians should also ask about how any entrances/exits are monitored/closed so strangers can't slip in and kids can't slip out.

I also made sure when I was teaching younger students with mental retardation that they always had important contact info on them (in their bookbags; you can also sew it into clothes or write it into shoes) and would quiz them on it periodically to make sure they remembered it (but worried they might freeze in an actual emergency, which is why I made them keep it on them). Actually, I was kind of evil and would make them do extra work (writing out their contact info repeatedly) if I ever found they did not have their school ID and emergency contacts cards on them. But, I gotta tell you it worked: several of our school's students were in a minor schoolbus accident, and one of my students was able to tell the hospital exactly how to reach her mom without looking at her info; the other two had their ID and info on them.

And parents and educators must talk to kids about street safety and what to do if they feel they are being followed. Kids should know that it is better to be "rude" by, say, not helping someone out with a lost puppy, than to be taken. But I also see a LOT of kids who seem way too young walking home by themselves, including in large cities like NYC (where I am from) and Philly, as well as smaller towns like West Chester. Parents, what are you thinking???

The other thing that freaks me out is when I see parents or caregivers in parks, in stores/restaurants, or on the street who are clearly not paying attention to where young kids are and what they are doing. Quit getting so involved in a conversation with the person next to you or over the phone that you don't pay attention! Plus, interacting more with kids is good for them (although you should give them time to play on their own, too, but you still need to pay attention).

You can make learning contact info fun, such as putting it to a song or using cardboard and dice to create a game where the goal is to get home safely and they have to answer questions when they land on spaces (such as "What is mom's cellphone number?").

One more tip: Please don't let young kids wear their earphones when crossing. Not only is this bad for their hearing, it also makes them more of a robbery target and less likely to pay attention to what is going on around them.

If you have kids, log on to the NCMEC Web site for tips on keeping kids safe.

I used to think the worst thing was to have a child die, but I now think it is not knowing. Bless the missing and their families.

Okay, class dismissed.
Posted By Anonymous Norah, West Chester, PA : 7:24 PM ET
That is some startling information. We all need to be more aware of children around us; at the grocery, in parks, at the mall... If something looks out of the ordinary we need to speak up. The worst thing that could happen is a little embarassment.
Posted By Anonymous Jess, Paris, KY : 7:40 PM ET
What about the kidnapper's relatives? Didn't they visit or talk with him? Who did they think this kid was?

I think we should stop focusing on the victims and let them have some peace. Let's focus on the kidnapper.
Posted By Anonymous Pam Marrs, San Jacinto, CA : 8:09 PM ET
I once left my son in my car, accidentally, while I went in to buy some things from a hardware store. When I returned, he was still there - and my heart lept. How could I forget him? How could I leave him? The scariest moment I'd ever experienced as a parent was now behind me. I realized at the time, though, that if someone had taken my son and I never saw him again, I would have no one to blame but myself. The President, Congress, governor, state troopers, media, friends and family might be there to assist me afterwards, but it would have been on my own lack of parenting that he would have been lost.
I see children wandering malls or sitting by themselves in movie theaters and I think back to my slip-up and how easy it would be for someone to snatch them up. It saddens me to know that some parents aren't willing to take the extra precaution and unstrap their kids when they go into the 7-11 to pay for gas. Maybe I'm a little over-zealous now - I won't even let them play on the front porch without my wife or me there as well. But, I'd rather be overzealous in watching out for my kids than missing my kids.
My heart goes out to those who have had a child taken from them under any situation and I'm glad to see the focus Anderson's blog is placing on this story.
Posted By Anonymous David, Montgomery, AL : 8:10 PM ET
Please tell us about the school mate who noticed the white truck, which ultimately led to the police finding the two boys. I want to hear something good that someone can do. Kids are smart & know more than we thinks.
Posted By Anonymous M. Lynne, Pinecrest, FL : 8:32 PM ET
To Nora, W. Chester, PA

I really liked your blog post and it is a great reminder to parents.

I have a few of my own to add. These have worked for my family.

1. Put your child's telephone numbers in his/her backpack and on an index card in his right front pocket. Also, I purchased iron-on telephone numbers that I put in his polo shirts. Since I travel frequently and take my son on all kinds of trips, I make sure he always has his information on planes, trains and buses. You never know if I were to get sick or there would be a train, bus or boat accident.

2. When your group or family goes to the theme park or zoo, wear the same color shirt. We all wear red shirts. I know it sounds really corny. When the children are at the playground, you can easily see them pronto. I have seen Moms put twins in matching bathing suits to find them faster.

3. Make stranger danger part of regular family discussions. It is OK to be rude to strangers if they make advances toward you or your child. My only experience with this was in Times Square in broad daylight. Two men made an unwelcome proposition toward my son. At first I thought, "What?" I was really in shock. Then they repeated themselves and I was very rude toward them to say the least.

After we got back to the hotel, I had to explain to my 7 year old why I was rude to the men, what they said and what they wanted. I really had to explain things to him that I wish I had not had to explain.

The next day we were going to the Met and we were sitting and waiting for the bus in front of the library. He wanted to know if we were still safe in NYC and if those 2 naughty men were still around.

What do you say when your child asks you do you think those naughty men ride the bus, go to the library and visit the museum? There were questions I just couldn't answer for him.

I quickly went from being upset with these 2 men to being thankful that I was there holding my sons hand and explaining these issues to him. He and I both learned a lot. We were both uncomfortable and we both left as soon as possible.
Posted By Anonymous Renee Bradenton, FL : 9:31 PM ET
The numbers are frightening. I was listening to the stories of the two boys from Missouri this week-end and had chills. I made my son watched. I'm a protective mom by nature, but having lost a child, I have a tendancy to want to be overprotective. I have a 11 years old son who is independant,so that helps me to let go a bit.
But, from a very young age, I have drilled my son about security and what to do if he's in trouble. He's learned that an adult shouldn't be asking a child for help, it is the only time he can be rude to people with my blessing. His name is everywhere(clothes,objects). I often tease him that I'm about to write his name on his forehead.
He is very outgoing and I didn't want to crush that, but at a young age, he would talk to anyone, invite them over(strangers!)and would tell me to not worry, the police would find him. I had my work cut out! But now, he knows what to do. But I've always made sure to tell him that I wasn't doing that to scare him, but to give him tools if he needed it. You don't want to scare them out of their minds! They have to be part of the process. We go to all the safety tips frequently,even if he's going on 12. That's when they feel more sure of themselves and think they can take care of themselves and fight away anybody who would want to take them. Hormons!!!
Losing a child is hell, not knowing where your child is, I don't know if there is a name to describe it.

Joanne R.
Laval Quebec
Posted By Anonymous Joanne R. Laval Quebec : 11:02 PM ET
An abducted child above all looses his/her sense of security. Without that it doesn't take much for an abducter to keep the child to stay with him.

Children also have a vivid imagination and create their own picture out of what they are being told. "You wouldn't want something to happen to your family, would you?" could actually be all that it takes to keep a child tied to the abducter. (As we know, sexually abused children often don't tell about their situation.)

I guess the saying "it takes a village to raise a child" is true. A village of adults taking responsibility and engaging in the well-being of all children, nor merely their own.
Posted By Anonymous Kristina, Boden, Sweden : 11:35 PM ET
I see bulletins of missimg children all the time , but never see were they were picked up, seems like if a person knows that if it happend in there city they would more likely to remember that child ,and the same for the other kids in another city. (keep up the good work.)
Posted By Anonymous James Bray, Wildomar CA. : 12:43 AM ET
In light of the fortunate outcome of this recent incident, I hope that people will realize the importance of civilian participation in the case. Perhaps there will be more hope and awareness for the thousands of children who remaim unaccounted for in this nation's communities.
Posted By Anonymous Sarah Blanc, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida : 12:52 AM ET
Anderson, I'm going to pose this about the young man who was held captive for 4 year's(forget the syndromes)What if life with his parent's to him was messed up enough that he didn't care to go home??!He had chances to escape!!
Posted By Anonymous John,Brooklyn,New York : 2:14 AM ET
Anderson

People need to understand two facts. Victims do not speak against their abusers because we feel:

#1 The adults in our life did not protect us from the crime being commited against us in the first place.

#2. How would they ever be able to keep us safe from the threats the abuser makes to keep us silent.

The abusers control starts the moment the crime is committed and continues well into adulthood when we make a pact with ourselves that "no one will ever hurt us again" Then and only then do we have the strength to speak of our abuse.
Posted By Anonymous Jo Tambeau Toronto, Canada : 7:06 AM ET
Gabe/AC360:
Thank you Norah, West Chester, PA and Renee Bradenton, FL, for your child safety tips!

I guess my contribution to child safety is to get your children finger printed. I know local malls and some schools will have this service from time to time with local law enforcement, but if not, just call the police/sheriff department and see where it can be done for your children. Also, those footprints you receive when your baby is born from the hospital, the footprints don't change they just get bigger. It can identify a child/teen/adult for reference.

My heart and prayers goes out to all the families with children missing. When my sister was 16 she ran away with an older man and we didn't hear from her for a month. It was the most painful experience I went through in my life. Fortunately, she connected with a relative and we were able to bring her home and put the man in jail.

AC360, thank you for covering this issue and thank you John Walsh for all the work he has done for Missing and Exploited Children.
Posted By Anonymous Sharon D., Indianapolis, IN : 9:01 AM ET
Reading the comments it's clear that we missed the fact that 203,000 children are taken by family members each year. I'm not saying that the two creeps in the park are not a real threat, but they are a relatively small threat.
I live in WI and I'm mostly concerned with our custody and visitation laws. If a parent pays child support, then they basically have the right to see their children every other weekend. Even if there is a history of abuse! I know parents who are afraid to let their kids go on the weekends, but are equally afraid of the jail time that comes if they don't comply. It's really appauling and these are the laws that need to be looked at, for the children's safety.
Posted By Anonymous Renae, Appleton, WI : 9:06 AM ET
I wonder how many end up as prostitutes?
Posted By Anonymous Nicki, Calgary, Alberta : 10:23 AM ET
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