Here’s an excerpt from my bnnddirrhh
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.


Sometimes a windowless white van is just a windowless white van. In fact, almost always.

Sometimes a windowless white van is just a windowless white van.


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  1. Ater June 21, 2016 at 10:17 am #

    Playing devil’s advocate, couldn’t this be the result of “stranger danger”?

  2. Vicki Bradley June 21, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    @Ater – that’s what I always fear someone is going to say when you quote them the statistics (“Well, yes, the number of stranger abductions have decreased because parents aren’t letting their kids go out on their own, so helicopter parenting works.”) Of course, I don’t believe that the case, but when denial of actual facts and fear are the main driving forces behind how one parents, this is the conclusion they may come to.

  3. Rachel Valentine June 21, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    Ater – not this time! If you read it, it says that the number of kidnappings is similar, but the percentage of kids that make it home is much higher. I am always worried people will say that hyper vigilance is working and that is why kids are safer, but crimes against everyone are down, and it looks like kidnappers still find roughly the same amount of kids to kidnap, despite the over bearing helicopter parenting that is so trendy today.

  4. Buffy June 21, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    I really don’t think it’s logical that there are still kidnappers behind every bush who are thwarted because kids scream STRANGER DANGER every time they meet a new person.

  5. WendyW June 21, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    It’s been a long time since I saw it, but I remember a study that showed rates of all types of crime correlated with the % of the population that was young adults- the segment that has all the hormones, energy, freedom of movement, and the angst that comes with figuring out what your life will be. Basically it showed that while the crime rates of the population as a whole fluctuated, the rate pretty much stayed consistent within that particular demographic.Currently our population is heavy with aging Boomers and the young people are a smaller portion of the population, therefore the crime rate is down.

  6. lollipoplover June 21, 2016 at 10:50 am #

    And weren’t the majority of these stranger kidnappings of teenage girls aged 13-15 for sexual assault?

    The conversations I have about stranger danger with my tween and teen daughters are not about white vans with puppies. They’re about the Brock Turner’s of the world and other creepy people she needs to use an abundance of caution around. Kids are still at risk, but no one wants to talk about sexual or domestic violence issues which are far, far more common than someone plucking your darling babe out of your front yard. More and more, it’s some wild animal- alligator, mountain lion, dogs. It’s seems that’s all that’s talked about in the news, not the kids murdered by their own father in yet another domestic *incident*. That doesn’t make the headlines and that statistic-murder suicide-is rapidly INCREASING. I’d say kids are safer than ever…outside. Inside their own homes? Not so much.

  7. Theresa June 21, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    It would be interesting to see if it more of a case of going after dumb teens or the younger generation the few cases of stranger danger

  8. Havva June 21, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    @lollipoplover, I haven’t heard that murder-suicide stat. Could you point me in the direction of the source?

  9. BL June 21, 2016 at 12:28 pm #

    Here’s a NYT story from (wait for it) …. 1932!

    “It is estimated that in Illinois alone, during 1930 and 1931, there were 400 kidnappings, according to Alexander Jamie, chief investigator for the “Secret Six,” a Chicago organization devoted to fighting organized crime. Forty-nine of the Illinois victims were reported officially as having paid ransom, many others were released without ransom and hundreds made no official reports.”

  10. Skip June 21, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

    @WendyW, the Baby Boomers are no longer the largest generation. There are now more Millennials than Boomers.

  11. K2 June 21, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    Technology changed the results. # of kids kidnapped almost the same. Technology helps to get them back. Helicopter parenting doesn’t help hardly at all and only takes away freedom, self affirmation, creativity, and the like.

  12. Reziac June 21, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    And even at the 1997 peak, those numbers are so small in the total of “possible ways your kids could get killed” as to be statistical noise. They’re far more likely to drown in your own bathtub.

  13. Dee June 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

    Good news. I had to advocate for clear thinking (not media thinking) just this week. Someone in a FB group I belong to shared a news story about a girl flying alone being groped by another passenger. The person posting it asked if we thought she should share it with her anxious friend who was letting her daughter fly alone. I pointed out that because it was rare, it was news and that one experience didn’t make it a common event. Of course someone else shared that she would never let her child fly alone because “too many creeps out there!!” Sigh…

  14. SanityAnyone? June 21, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

    You can’t even adopt a neutered cat now without promising to keep it inside for life, because “indoor cats live longer and are exposed to less disease”. You call that a life? Let’s release the shackles on kids and cats. There can be tragic entanglements with cars, foxes or germs but reasonable risk is the price of freedom.

  15. Pattie Fitzgerald June 21, 2016 at 2:10 pm #

    Totally agree, Lenore. 90% of the time it’s “Uncle Creepy” or some other charming family friend or relative. Still I know it’s hard for parents not to worry when they hear a scary story on the news. So while i can’t shame a parent for being concerned, i do think it’s smart to let our free range kids out in the world with some good information first about how to BE in the world on their own. Which is why I always stood behind your letting your son ride the subway on his own several years ago. (It wasn’t like you dropped him off in the middle of nowhere and said “good luck!”) All about balance. And it’s true that stranger-danger abductions have decreased considerably over the past 10 years. Now if we could just parents to open their eyes to bigger reality that the “tricky person” is usually someone you know!

  16. WendyW June 21, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

    @ Skip. Thanks for the link, i hadn’t seen that type of graphic, or any numerical analysis, for the current demographics. Interesting that the growth for Millennials is largely from immigration, rather than birth rates.

  17. pentamom June 21, 2016 at 6:19 pm #

    There’s a trick for accessing WSJ articles without the paywall — Google the headline and go from there.

  18. Joe Briggs June 21, 2016 at 7:51 pm #

    You want to learn about child predators-just ask Heidi Fleiss about all the 15 year old girls she sent over to the once living “Spank Monster” Don Simpson. Apparently old Don clocked a 15 year old girl after his drug induced night-

    Not to worry, the public urinator was caught-the women and children are safe!

    And Jerry Bruckheimer has said that Don Simpson was a gregarious man!

  19. lollipoplover June 21, 2016 at 7:57 pm #


    Here’s a start:

    There is no comprehensive data collected on murder suicides in the US. On average, we have 11 per week.

  20. lollipoplover June 21, 2016 at 7:59 pm #


    Here’s a start:

    There is no comprehensive data collected on murder suicides in the US. On average, we have 11 per week.
    I lost a close friend to a murder suicide and my know of 2 that occurred in my town. The only child in our town that was murdered was by his father in a murder suicide. It’s like our dirty little secret, dads killing moms and sometimes their kids.

  21. Derek W Logue of June 22, 2016 at 12:40 am #

    Without visiting the WSJ comment section, I’m willing to bet some dumbass has already contributed this minor change to Megan’s Flaw.

    Another thing– with the numbers being of a small number to begin with, it does not take much to change the percentages of the stats within. Who is to say the next time the stat comes out, the percentage of those killed doesn’t fluctuate back up to 40%, or 70%, or 5%, or even 0%?

  22. sexhysteria June 22, 2016 at 4:17 am #

    I think it’s certainly possible that hysterical vigilance has contributed to a decrease in stranger kidnappings, but at the price of terrorizing an entire generation of children, and possibly accompanied by neglect of children’s other needs like accurate, balanced, and comprehensive sex education.

    An analogous case is that C-sections reduce mortality during childbirth (compared to vaginal birth), but at the price of less successful breastfeeding and possibly increased risk of autism spectrum disorders later. As Dr. Michel Odent points out, we need to consider all the effects of modern childcare policies, not merely one or two in isolation.

  23. Harrow June 22, 2016 at 10:32 am #

    I just realized why I have had such a happy, productive, independent life. I was born in 1941 and the helicopter did not enter the popular consciousness until newsreels of the Korean War showed the H-47 airlifting wounded soldiers in 1951.

    This means that for the first ten years of my life my mother and father were spared any peer pressure to be helicopter parents because nobody in my town had ever heard of a helicopter.

  24. Paul June 22, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    Let’s just say it:

    Kids are actually more harmed in the USA by friends and relatives than by strangers (and by a HUGE margin)…

    Yet we live and journalistically report the opposite!


  25. Havva June 22, 2016 at 12:32 pm #

    Thanks for the pointer. That got me to the source study from the Violence Policy Center. The issue has touched my life as well. I had a classmate who was the victim of one of those referenced “family annihilators”. It was a horrible shock to his fellow students, and the adults did not handle it well either.

    Anyhow, it was good to look at the source. Each report from them has mentioned the same estimated range of 1,000 to 1,500 murder-suicide deaths per year.* There have been variations across the VPC reports on their estimated annual numbers, ranging from 1108 to 1382. But they have never breached the stated range. When the results of all the studies are graphed, it looks (to me) more like statistical noise, than a pattern. Granted, I’m not a statistician.

    *(from Yekeen A. Aderibigbe, “Violence in America: A Survey of Suicide Linked to Homicides,” Journal of Forensic Sciences 42, no. 4 (1997): 662-665.)