Here’s an excerpt from my piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:
A Parent’s Nightmare—Increasingly Unlikely
by Lenore Skenazy
In the past two decades stranger-danger child murders have dropped enormously, according to a new Justice Department report.
In 1997 there were 115 “stereotypical” kidnappings of children under age 17—“stereotypical” roughly translating to “like the ones you see on ‘Law & Order.’ ” These are kidnappings at the hands of a stranger or slight acquaintance.
Last week the department released a bulletin with figures for 2011. Roughly the same number of kidnappings, 105, occurred, but only 8% ended in murder. In 1997, by contrast, 40% did. Today, children kidnapped by a stranger have a 92% chance of making it home.
David Finkelhor, one of the report’s authors, isn’t surprised by this drop in murders. “There have been declines in a lot of crimes against children over this period,” he tells me, “so if it had gone up, it would have really surprised me.”
Technology—the very thing many parents fear—is a great help. The study found only one instance of a victim being lured away by a kidnapper met online. Yet technology came to the rescue in about two thirds of the cases. Either investigators traced calls to the perp’s phone, or they located the victims by GPSing their cells, or surveillance cameras recorded the crimes.
Despite these trends, stranger-danger abductions still occupy our imaginations. Parents fret about them. Hollywood makes TV shows about them. Friends and neighbors share YouTube videos on how easy it is for strangers to lure kids away with puppies. Police even sometimes arrest parents who let their kids walk to school or play outside unsupervised, on the mistaken assumption that those kids are likely to be kidnapped.
With any luck, this study will change those misperceptions. It should also lay to rest other societal panics: “None of the 2011 stereotypical kidnappings involved pedophile networks, serial killings or ritual or occult activity,” the report says. I hope people will remember this the next time they’re tempted to forward a Facebook warning about exactly those scenarios.
The rest is here. When I accessed it, sometimes it was behind a paywall, sometimes it wasn’t. Since I can’t guarantee the rest will be readable, let me just tell you that being kidnapped by a stranger into sex trafficking is also very rare, with about 17 cases a year. It’s awful, yes, and exceedingly uncommon.
We don’t live in a perfect world. But we live in times that are far safer than our fear-fetishizing culture makes us think. – L.