Watching TV and Feeling Terrified

Hi hiekhabssz
Here’s a note I got from a reader and a note SHE got from her mom. The latter may sound very similar to the one in your own inbox.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I received the email below from my mother.  She is a professional worry-wart.

I’m not sure her statistics are correct, any thoughts?

(Signed) A Reader

Here is what the Reader’s mother wrote:

So tonight there were these statistics on TV by Polly Klass’s father, can’t remember his first name but he created a foundation several years ago after his teenage daughter was abducted in CA.

These are the stats:  Every year 800,000 children disappear, and a child disappears every 40 seconds

Of these 800K, 74 percent are children under 10 and 78 percent of them disappear within a quarter mile of their home.

So Mr. Klass’s message to everyone was, never let your children be outside of your home alone.  His message was part of the news relating to the disappearance of the Orange Park FL 7 year old girl. It is all over the news tonight, very sad.

The program is still on, with all these specialists commenting, saying they never thought they would agree with always being outside with your kids but now they totally endorse it.

Anyways, Love you

(signed) Mom

First of all, mom needs to take better notes. The Klaas Foundation’s website page about kidnapping statistics actually cites the same abduction study I quote on this blog and in my book:

In 1999, the most recent year for which we have statistics, 115 children were abducted and held overnight by strangers. Of these, about 40% were killed, bringing the total to 50. That is a horrible number, but it is not one a week, much less “one every 40 seconds.”

The numbers come from the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which uses U.S. Department of Justice data to derive its statistics. And the head of the research center, David Finkelhor, was quoted in the press yesterday as saying these numbers are going DOWN, not up.

Even one child hurt is a sickening thought. And that is why anyone who is no longer allowing his or her children to walk to school should probably also not be driving them anywhere, either. After all: About 2000 children die every year as passengers in cars. It is the #1 cause of death of children over age one. All parents determined to keep their children 100% safe must start by not allowing them to ride in cars.

Of course, I know that this is a warning most parents will (rightly) ignore. Why? Because they see for themselves what the odds are: The chances are very good that they can drive to the grocery with their kids, and even drive back, without getting into a fiery crash. They make their decision about their children’s safety based on their own, personal experience of life and driving.

When we make our decisions about letting our kids walk to school, however, we base them on something else: The news. News from as far away as Florida. Or Aruba. Or Portugal. The media are happy to go to the ends of the earth to bring us live coverage of the abduction of a white girl because nothing is better for ratings.

Headline News becomes the biggest source of information we use to make our decisions. Not our own experience. Not our own observations of our own neighborhoods. The news, which, by definition, brings us the most shocking and unusual stories it can find and then repeats them in order to fill day after day of 24-hour news cycles.

The current news is so shocking, of course, that it throws us off. We are human and we are heartbroken. But in our desperate attempt to make a very rare event very rare, we forget IT ALREADY IS. And we end up stunting the very thing we are trying to hard to protect: childhood.

Children were not made to sit at home, locked in, living a “virtual” life while the sun shines outside. I won’t even get into all the other dangers we’re exposing them to with that kind of existence: diabetes, depression, obesity. No, let me just say as so many commenters have on this site:

If we really want to keep our kids safe, we are fooling ourselves to think “not walking to school” is the way to do it. The way to keep our kids 100% safe is not to have them in the first place. Otherwise, they face risk every day. The tiny risk of dying in a car crash. The far tinier risk of being killed by a stranger.

And now the growing risk of being gently imprisoned by the people who love them the most. – Lenore


44 Responses to Watching TV and Feeling Terrified

  1. Kris October 24, 2009 at 12:28 am #

    I recently read your book “Free Range Kids.” I was so happy to have read it. I found I had bought into the hysteria and reading the book enabled me to take a deep breath and relax . . . a little.

    But, I have a question. If approximately one child per week is abducted and killed by a stranger do I up my child’s chances by allowing them to be free range. In other words, if all the other millions of kids are inside but mine is outside does he/she stand more of a chance of becoming that ‘one’ because he/she is available? Thanks.

  2. Tracey R October 24, 2009 at 12:33 am #

    A quick question on the statistics about cars: does this count deaths of kids in school buses? Many still don’t have seatbelts, let alone airbags.

  3. Marion October 24, 2009 at 12:43 am #

    An article at

    Wendi Kallins, project manager for the Marin County SR2S program, which has become a national model for the burgeoning movement, says parents routinely cite safety as the main reason they prevent their kids from walking or biking to school. But more often than not, parents’ safety arguments are like falling down the rabbit hole; plunge deeper, and it gets curiouser and curiouser.

    Fifty percent of the children hit by cars near schools are hit by vehicles driven by parents of other students, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Researchers for the Marin County program found that up to 30 percent of morning traffic is caused by parents driving their children to school. (These figures have since been validated in other parts of the country.) And as Dave Glowacz, the education director at the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, points out, driving to school has so thoroughly penetrated the K-8 consciousness that school “arrival” and “dismissal” times have been linguistically recast as “drop-off” and “pickup” hours.

    In the SR2S vernacular, parental concerns about safety have as much to do with “stranger danger” — the chance that a child walking to school will be snatched off the sidewalk by a complete stranger — as a fear of traffic. In the United States, the actual incidence of stranger danger is decreasing; the number of kids kidnapped by strangers nationwide in 2002 was 115, down from 200 in 1988. “But when you’re dealing with gut-level fears, there’s not much you can do,” Kallins said. “The whole level of fear in our culture is increasing.” She describes one father who attended an SR2S meeting: “‘With my pretty blue-eyed daughter,’ he said, ‘I’m convinced she will be the one.'”

    Child-abduction terrors exploit the gap between perception and reality. They also reinforce a logical fallacy — “I won’t let my kids walk because it’s not safe; it’s not safe because there aren’t enough people walking” — that cuts straight to the heart of pedestrian and bike advocacy. In the late 1960s, 90 percent of children who lived within a mile of their school walked or biked. Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 31 percent of such kids do so. Instead, working parents drive their kids two blocks to school to save time, then spend 5 to 10 minutes circling the building to find a safe place to drop them off — a description that fits not only my neighbor across the street but also thousands of other parents across the country. Then there’s the mother who smashed a kid in the face as she was opening the door of her SUV to drop off her own child.

    “It’s just mayhem,” says Glowacz, who gathered data about kids in a northern Chicago suburban elementary school who were hit by cars while biking to school, only to discover that the only documented incidents occurred near school grounds during drop-off and pickup times.

  4. Leila October 24, 2009 at 12:53 am #

    I agree!

    Even in the sixties growing up in New Haven we were taught certain precautions: walk in a group, stay on the open side of the street (the side with the crossing guards, houses, low shrubs, etc), be home by a certain time.

    Common sense.

    A little girl WAS abducted by a stranger along the route from school. It was horrible. But she walked alone, on the darker side of the street, and late.

    There is danger, but there is also common sense. I wouldn’t trade my hours of freedom for any amount of safety.

  5. Tom October 24, 2009 at 12:54 am #

    Tracey R: No, those numbers don’t include school buses. School buses are extremely safe, around 26,000 crashes with just 10 deaths a year. Most school-bus-related fatalities occur while getting on or off the bus.

    This is partly because buses are large, tall and massive, so that in a car-vs-bus crash, the car loses. You need to hit the bus with a big truck or a train (which, sadly, does happen) or roll it over to do a lot of damage.

    NHTSA believes that adding shoulder and lap belts to school buses would actually *increase* fatalities, for two reasons. First, kid sizes vary so much that if you size the belts for high-school kids, you increase the risk of abdominal and neck injuries (some fatal) to smaller kids. Second, adding belts increases the cost of buses, which leads to crowding, which leads to kids not getting on the bus, but instead taking a ride in a (much more dangerous) car to school.

    School buses are very safe, much safer than cars, and there is very little you can do that wouldn’t actually make them less safe.


  6. Kirk Strong October 24, 2009 at 1:04 am #

    A couple of random thoughts:

    I think whether or not to let your children walk to school has to do with location. There are some, mostly urban, areas where I wouldn’t let my child walk three blocks by themselves. Where I live now in Anacortes, WA, they could go three miles. There are fewer crimes in this town in a year than some urban areas typically have in a single day.

    My guess is that the reason most parents choose the greater risk of driving their kids to school has to do with control. When you’re the driver, you’re in control. When your kid is walking or biking to school, you’re not in control.

  7. KateNonymous October 24, 2009 at 1:14 am #

    I think the worry-wart mother needs to question what she thinks she hears. Does she honestly believe that 800,000 children disappear in the U.S. each year? That number is so huge that it’s ridiculous on its face.

    She would also do well to remember that in the tragic story of Polly Klaas, a little girl was taken from her bedroom at night. Friends were with her as part of a slumber party, and her mother was home. Being outside had nothing to do with that horrible story. Except possibly this: her killer should not have been outside.

    And I don’t say this to take away from the Klaas family’s pain, or to diminish Mark Klaas’s efforts to establish what is today the AMBER Alert system. I didn’t see the program, so I have no idea what Mr. Klaas said, or what statistics he actually cited, so I can’t comment on that directly. However, whether the mother heard those statistics or thinks she heard them, she needed to question them rather than be panicked.

  8. Lafe October 24, 2009 at 1:20 am #

    This letter amazes me. Who is making these things up? Who sends out false numbers like that? Why are they trying to terrify parents? To me, such a person has the same mentality as a terrorist who plants a bomb in a busy marketplace to drive fear into people. It’s sick. Anyone who passes such emails along without taking a moment to confirm their veracity is doing a terrible thing also. People need to think more, and only pass along true information.

    I think I will buy a box of Lenore’s book and give them to various uptight parents I know this Christmas. We need to find ways to disseminate reason and good sense – the ones broadcasting pure, blind fear obviously have quite a head start.

    @Kris: I believe if more of us let the kids out there would be more kids out playing *together*, and less abductions. I was talking to my kids yesterday about the poor Florida girl, and they immediately asked why she would leave her siblings and friends like that and go off alone, even if she was angry. It’s not about letting your kid run free so there will be more victims out there alone and vulnerable, but teaching your kids to be safe and sensible while they are out experiencing life.

  9. Tami October 24, 2009 at 1:22 am #

    Love the scare statistics: Every year 800,000 children disappear, and a child disappears every 40 seconds
    – if that really was even close to being true, every one of us would personally know someone who was abducted and killed. I don’t and so I’ve never been able to believe this anyway. Thank you for posting the true statistics even if it is from 1999 – that sounds much more logical.

    My 2 children (6 and almost 10) walk to school now. Not sure what I’ll do about next year though when their younger sister starts Kindergarten. It will depend on how she matures by then. Right now she’s a handful for me when we walk anywhere – it’s doubtful she would listen to the older kids.

  10. Lafe October 24, 2009 at 1:23 am #

    Grrr. Forgot to check the notify box!

  11. Tom October 24, 2009 at 1:26 am #

    Yes, the 800K/year number is one that when you hear it, you should realize it’s beyond silly. There are roughly 60 million kids under 20, so one in 75 kids every year? That would be 8 kids every year just from my daughter’s elementary school, 9 a year from the middle school, and 21 a year from the high school. Why aren’t the local media reporting these four abductions every month, just from the schools in my neighborhood?


  12. Layne October 24, 2009 at 1:26 am #

    Where is the 800,000 stat coming from? If that were so, and just limited to America, wouldn’t every family personally know at least one child who had been abducted? Not just from what they heard on the news, but a child from their school or family?

  13. Babs October 24, 2009 at 1:27 am #

    It’s unfortunate that we have these things happen, but with the stats being what they are, I worry more for my child being hit by a car vs. being abducted by a stranger. She is almost 6, and while we live a stone’s throw away from school, the school requires that she be escorted by an adult to/from daily (until about third grade). If I feel she is capable of walking to/from school with friends when she is older/more street smart, I will do it. However, I think I seem to be in the minority — a few ‘older’ (grades 3 and up) kids do go to school unescorted, usually with friends, but not many.

    And while we’re on the topic, a lot of the worrywarts watch too much TV news — esp. scaremongers like Nancy Grace, who has made a career out of exploiting missing/murdered kids. Just as she was covering the death of Somer Thompson last night (yes, I confess to having tuned in!), she launched into yet another missing kid story – this time with a 9 y.o. girl who walked home from a playdate, unescorted (!), to her home barely 1/4 mile away.

    At the rate these stories are being blasted on the news, you’re going to see more kids who will be penned up like veal calves, well into their teens, vs. kids who will be allowed to explore the world in an age-appropriate manner. Very sad.

  14. Jan S October 24, 2009 at 1:42 am #

    I’m sorry for parents who’ve tragically lost their children. Sometimes they go on a public crusade as a way of dealing with their pain and, yes, feelings of guilt. It’s natural. I feel that it all becomes way over-hyped in the presence of these predictable emotions. The media plays a big role in this.

  15. Jenny Wadley October 24, 2009 at 1:44 am #

    It is so difficult to stay calm, centered and focused on giving my kids a childhood of discovery and freedom, when statistics and fear and opinions are shoved down my throat. I’ll admit it- we live in FL, and this story completely freaked me out. I wondered if I was putting my child at risk by letting him play in the back yard, which is unfenced.

    Thank goodness for your site, your writing, and the wonderful people who comment and calm me down. Again, rationality wins out over fear. I hope it always does.

  16. Erin October 24, 2009 at 1:45 am #

    I really appreciate the message you are trying to get out, that the media has created some degree of paranoia in our society about kidnappings, etc. I live in a suburb of Chicago. It is a relatively safe place, though crime does happen as in any urban area. This is where I grew up in the 80’s. It’s not so much that I worry about my daughter vanishing, it’s other stuff that can happen to her on her walk to school. A friend of mine was “touched” by a stranger, I was run over by another kid on a dirt bike who purposely hit me and rode across my back and my mother was mugged right in front of our house. None of these events made headlines. But in high population areas, other crimes can happen to kids that aren’t always the big ones, like kidnapping. It’s not uncommon that at 8 am on my way to work I will see some oddball walking down the side of the street who may or may not be on drugs. It’s really hard because you want to give kids freedom, but I don’t want my daughter to experience any of the above that I mentioned. While kidnappings are rare, other “crimes”–depending on where you live–may not be.

  17. Steve October 24, 2009 at 2:03 am #

    The real safety question each parent should be asking is NOT – I repeat – NOT how many kids are abducted and killed! That’s too general and not even rational.

    Say you have a friend who’s looking for a reasonably priced home in your small town of 5,000 in central Kansas. Almost nothing is available. Should the abundance of homes for sale in other states even enter your friend’s home search equation? No. (Well, maybe, if he’s considering a major move.) But you get my point.

    Local stats are what should concern everybody.
    Local safety statistics.

    How many kids have been abducted in YOUR TOWN or city in the last 5 years?

    Now, before you do some calculations, investigate those abductions to see how many were abducted by
    a) a relative b) neighbor c) stranger

    Then take that number and your population and do some figuring.


    What are the chances of a child being abducted in YOUR TOWN?

  18. Steve October 24, 2009 at 2:17 am #

    For some perspective on our fears and those of another time and place, you might find these videos of interest:

  19. Greg October 24, 2009 at 2:24 am #

    Lenore, I think there is another factor at work with regard to parents being scared to let their kids walk to school, yet put them into the car without a second thought. People tend to be most scared of things they cannot control. When we put a kid in the back seat and drive off we feel like we have control (even if we really don’t). When we let them walk to school alone we have little or no control over what happens, which scares people.

    A child abducted and murdered is a terrible tragedy. But there is a greater tragedy at work when childhood is sacrificed to fear and parents don’t let their kids play outside alone to grow and become responsible for themselves. The first is a tragedy that even the most extreme measures can fail to stop, given that kids have been abducted from their bedrooms in safe communities. But the second is a tragedy that we actually do have control over as a society and as parents. I think we need to become more educated about the facts and learn to control our own fears rather than try to control the lives of our children.

  20. Sam Caldwell October 24, 2009 at 2:36 am #

    Recently while working on a research project I read through the Polly Klaas case. While this is a RARE case, Richard Allen Davis (the guy who kidnapped Polly) proves the point that the US needs to look anywhere EXCEPT California for its criminal justice policy. Mr. Davis would have never lasted as long as he did in any state other than California, whose state can boast as having one if the HIGHEST recidivism rates in the US because they have refused to implement painful reforms the rest of the states implemented during the 1970’s and 1980s.

    Mr. Klaas’ statements that you can’t leave your kid alone for even a minute do not hold water when considering the case of his daughter’s abduction. In that case, rare as it may be, Polly Klaas was abducted from her home during a slumber party. One is still better served by teaching kids independence as opposed to the flawed assumption that intensive supervision will protect them from all harm.

    A friend of mine once told me that there are only two ways to ensure you stay safe 100% of the time: Avoid Birth or die. Anywhere in between these two extremes means you must accept and learn to live with the risk of death and injury. That friend is currently in Afghanistan where children face landmines left by the Soviets during the 80’s. Put in perspective, American children are at a greater risk of becoming dependent on others for their safety as opposed to themselves and their own natural common sense.

  21. pipu October 24, 2009 at 2:42 am #

    Actually, I don’t think that number is so ridiculous. IF IT INCLUDES RUNAWAYS, it could be very possible that 800K kids go missing each year. In a quick google search, I get numbers ranging from 100K to 1.3million runaways per year in the USA.

    Of course, children running away from home is a tragedy itself, but if (as I suspect) Klass is including that number in his “total disappearances” stat, that is completely disingenuous.

  22. Liz October 24, 2009 at 3:02 am #

    I, too live in Florida and have been amazed even before the Somer incident how many parents keep their children on a short leash. Though I claim to be a free range parent, I have recently become guilty for keeping my kids on a short leash…not because of the hyped up fears induced by the media but because of all the people around me willing to call child services because
    1. they do not physically see a parent on top of the child every moment,
    2. they see a child in the trees or building forts in bushes
    3. they see kids w/o adults walking home from school passing by a lake that used to have gators two years ago
    4. the child is injured when the parent was looking the other way at the moment of the incident.

    So many of these people falling into the hysteria not only effects their children’s upbringing but our families as well. I am soo happy to have found this blog to help me defend myself as to why I feel secure enough to give my children the same freedoms I had as a child. Unfortunately, I have become a ‘victim’ of a helicopter personality and now have a record w/ child services… though it was unfounded beyond a shadow of a doubt my family will now always be in the system…
    I will forever be afraid of the helicopter personality waaaay more than any kidnapper.

  23. NJMom October 24, 2009 at 3:29 am #

    In “Last Child in the Woods” Richard Louv quotes Polly Klaas’ father as saying that at first, after the abduction, he advocated no children alone outside. Then he changed his mind and said children needed to spend time on their own but he strongly suggested they carry cell phones.

  24. Tom October 24, 2009 at 3:31 am #

    As a kid, in the late 60s and early 70s, I learned how to do risk management by hurting myself.

    I was only seriously hurt a few times, and only once did that require more than stitches. By the time I started to drive, I appreciated that the Universe was liable to bite me, and while I did a number of dumb things with a car in the first few years, I think learning about self-inflicted unintentional injury was helpful in learning how to make decisions about risky behavior. That includes driving, taking challenging high school and college courses, picking dating partners, sex, and a large number of other choices.

    Eventually my daughter will have to make her own risk management decisions. For years I’ve been letting her make decisions in various controlled environments, the most chaotic (since she was 5) being show jumping. Horse are large, strong and unpredictable. She’s gotten hurt a few times, which freaks out her mother, but she’s learned from both the painful and enjoyable parts of the experience. At 13, she’s smart enough to generalize beyond the show ring.

    I think it a dangerous practice to make all decisions for a youngster, insulate them from any risk, and then at the age of 16 or 18 or 20 ask them to suddenly run their own lives for the first time.

    I certainly feel the impulse to never see my daughter in any danger, to never see her hurt, to ever see her in fear, but I actively stifle it in the service of her eventual independence.

    The impulse to “backload” a child’s independent decision making ability seems terribly foolish, and ultimately far more dangerous when that kid reaches adulthood. I believe we owe our kids independence, and we need to think rationally about risks. I know that it’s hard — I find it hard myself — but I can’t let my fear impair my daughter’s development.


  25. ebohlman October 24, 2009 at 4:02 am #

    I’m pretty sure the 800,000 figure includes not just runaways, throwaways, kids abducted by non-custodial parents (I think that one is about 200,000) and kids abducted by strangers, but also kids who just got lost and were found (safe and sound) very shortly afterward.

    Keep in mind that heart disease, cancer and stroke are the only things associated with more than 100,000 deaths, in people of all ages, per year. Homicide accounts for about 18,000 deaths and again that’s for people of all ages (males in their late teens/early twenties are the most at risk).

  26. Kathy October 24, 2009 at 4:43 am #

    OK, I saw the program the letter writer watched. It was Nancy Grace, two nights ago, I believe. The statistics were flying across the screen so fast, I wished I had been taping it because I wanted to go back and re-read what I thought I saw.

    Yes, I believe the number reported was 800,000. However, I believe the wording was “reported missing,” which is less ominous-sounding that “disappear” (as though they are never to be found again.)

    And yes, Mr. Klaas did say “The obvious lesson in this is that we cannot allow our children to go outside unaccompanied, bottom line.”

    This is taken directly from the show’s transcript, available here:

  27. Aubrey October 24, 2009 at 5:32 am #

    I think mine disappear about every 40 seconds, if there’s anything interesting going on. They always find their way home, though….

    (before someone calls CPS, I’m talking about them running out the door to their garage “workshop” or to play in the yard – I really do know their general location, just can’t see them)

  28. Marie October 24, 2009 at 6:03 am #

    The “800,000” figure refers to children reported as missing in a one year period of time in a US Dept of Justice report (Oct 2002; National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children). The actual number given in the report is 797,500 (an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day). Of all of these, 115 were victims of a stranger abduction. But whether a child is taken by a stranger or has run away, is lost, or was kidnapped by a non-custodial parent; getting pictures, a detailed description (including height and weight) and any info regarding a medical condition to police right away is critical.

  29. Mary October 24, 2009 at 11:27 am #

    what a ridiculous statistic. what i wonder is, where would these kids be going? is this where that ‘everyone is a pedo’ thing came from?

  30. kate October 24, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    I have the same question a previous poster has. If 99% of kids are being watched all the time (which they seem to be these days), doesn’t that make the 1% not being watched a fairly high risk of being one of the kids taken each year?

    When I was a kid, there were 10-20 kids on the street playing at any time. There was a kind of safety in numbers going on. Across the country, that was millions of kids out playing. 115 of them getting taken was a very low number.

    Now though, if someone’s 2 kids are out playing, they are likely to be the only ones out (or the only ones walking to school alone). So across the country what, a few thousand are out unwatched? 115 of them being taken makes their odds much worse. Seems like it would have been safer w/all the other kids out. It’s a catch-22.

  31. babelbabe October 24, 2009 at 9:48 pm #

    Steve, excellent point re: local stats. Nicely done.

  32. Krolik October 24, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    kate, very good point. There was strength in numbers back in those days.

    Also, I think us waving the comforting number 115 is in some ways as misleading as “the other side” brandishing 800,000. 115 represents just the “stereotypical” abductions, i.e. cases when a child was held overnight, killed or transported more than 50 miles. The total number of non-family abductions is much higher, close to 25,000 I believe. Surely we are not suggesting that anything less than a fatal abduction is equivalent to a bruised knee?

    Before you all jump on me, I am the same person who suggested that encountering a flasher or another kind of creep (out in the open, within earshot of other people) need not be traumatizing and can in fact help a child learn valuable skills for when she grows up and has to deal with all kinds of unwanted sexual advances. It is what might happen to my child if she encounters a creep when she is alone outside because all other children (and grown-ups) are at home watching TV that I am worried about.

  33. Amber October 25, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    Strangely enough I’m glad my grandmother’s television broke last week as she was freaking me out with all these new stories of one abduction or another as she watches Nancy Grace and a lot of other fear mongering shows. Two weeks ago she freaked out- despite me leaving a message on her answering machine that I would be late in coming home- because I stayed out until 10:30 with a guy friend. Her main worry was he was “going to do something” to me even though we were at the college most of that time watching free movies at a crowded foreign film festival.

  34. bethan October 25, 2009 at 7:51 am #

    child safety/security is a big business, so -yes- people inflate the numbers.

    The set of statistics that come from sexual assault resource centers looks worse than what you read from the crimes against children research center. Most crimes against children are not reported, so CCRC can’t provide metrics on them.

    Best estimates put the number between 7 and 25% – pretty huge range.

    With regard to kids getting hijacked – stereotypical kidnappings happen about 140 times per year, maybe slightly more.

    58,000 kids are subjected to abduction each year, which can be from 5 minutes up to 10 hours or more. Most of those children have a crime committed against them in addition to the abduction.

    There are a lot of other metrics to review that skew these statistics – ex: children that are abused once are more likely to be abused in separate instances; it’s called polyvictimization. Kids that are more marginalized are more likley to be abused and also less likely to not report it.

    Anyway. it comes down to – have your kids travel in sets, teach them safety/security rules, and use common-sense.

    Also – i’d like to point out that the trauma from having a child abducted and assaulted is a very different type of trauma than having a kid hit by a car or some other type of non-exploitative crime.

  35. Kat Gordon October 25, 2009 at 11:27 am #

    When I heard Mark Klaas on the news the other night, saying that “we can’t let our children out of our sight,” my heart sank. I heard this remark from my hotel room while attending a Marketing to Moms conference where, amongst other subjects, we heard from the National Wildlife Foundation about how children’s lack of outdoor time leads to a host of problems, including obesity and a failure to be stewards for our planet. What’s most ironic is that Klaas’ daughter disappeared from her very own bedroom. The answer isn’t putting kids under constant surveillance; it’s raising them to watch the world from up close.

  36. Mister Bunny October 25, 2009 at 9:40 pm #

    I grew up in the 60’s. When I was about three, I followed the baby sitter home one afternoon. I got lost. The whole neighborhood looked for me, finally finding me a few blocks from home, nowhere near the baby sitter’s house.

    Not for one second did anything think I was abducted. I had wandered off, something kids USED to do, but apparently don’t anymore. No one called in the media, no one alerted the cops (we had neighbors…why would the police need to get involved in something so trivial as a 3 year old girl who had wandered away from home?), my parents were smart enough to know what sort of kid I was (I was often found in trees and up our chimney), so off they went to look for me.

    I guess kids aren’t allowed to explore the world on their own anymore. Any attempts to do so, even if they are silly (like I was), are instant “events” whereby we all have to hear tiresome stories about how scary the world is.

    Now that I’m old, I walk to my train station every morning at 5am. It’s me and the stars, and it never occurs to me to be scared of the boogyman. My parents raised me to be a solid grownup I think, not some spineless bowl of jello, which is sadly what too many kids will grow up to be.

  37. Dave October 29, 2009 at 3:33 am #

    Keep repeating the message until everyone joins in. It is okay to be a kid and play outside. If the parents went outside with the kids the TV would be off and we wouldn’t hear false message constantly that are kids are never safe anywhere.

  38. Jennifer November 4, 2009 at 2:30 am #

    The U.S. Department of Justice reports

    •797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time studied resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.
    •203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.
    •58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions.
    •115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. (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.)
    see this link

    So the 58,200 were kidnapped by strangers, but released very soon. (We can assume perhaps a sexual crime against the child.) Only 115 were actual overnight kidnappings involving ransom or killings. So the real statistics here in my opinion are 58,315 children go missing for some length of time from a stranger abduction. Scary, but not quite as bad as the 800,000, at least.

  39. Jennifer November 4, 2009 at 2:31 am #

    Ooops. I didn’t mean to say “strangers”. I meant “non family”, since it doesn’t specify if the child knew them or not.

  40. Tom November 4, 2009 at 2:47 am #

    Jennifer, that’s a good point. I remember seeing that the 58,200 included a significant number of acquaintances. I was able to quickly find this:

    “The report describes acquaintance abductions as a combination of different crime scenarios. Some include teenage girls who are abducted by boyfriends or former boyfriends seeking revenge for rejection, trying to force reconciliation, or committing sexual assault.

    Other cases involve adolescents and teens abducted by acquaintances involved in gang activity who are trying to intimidate, retaliate, or even recruit them. Other incidents involve family friends or employees, such as babysitters, who may remove children from their home to sexually assault them or retaliate against the family.”


    This is a serious problem, and one that is not solved by locking kids in the house until they are 16 and then handing them car keys. Both boys and girls need to learn to get themselves out of potentially dangerous situations, and develop their own strategies for avoiding danger.


    particularly teenage males who

  41. Tom November 4, 2009 at 2:50 am #

    Oops for me, too.

    The closing “)” needs to be dropped from the URL for the study.

    And the last line should be “Particularly teenage males who are both victims of violence and prone to attempt sexual violence.”


  42. M December 3, 2009 at 3:34 pm #

    I think the take-home message is that abductions do happen, but vigilance rather than paranoia is the best solution.

    One thought on the NISMART-2 statistics quoted above:

    The number for non-family abductions was 58,000. Of those, 45% were strangers or slight acquaintances. Half of the cases involved sexual assault. While 99% of children were returned alive, even being sexually and physically assaulted is still traumatic and something to avoid.

    That is far less than the 800,000 figure, which is for all disappearances like runaways or custody disputes. It is also far more than the 115 figure (see below).

    The115 kids figure for “stereotypical kidnappings”, which is defined very narrowly and is based only on police reports. By definition, in a completely unsolved disappearance, there is no way for law enforcement to know what happened. Thus, those cases are not counted in that 115 figure.

  43. Naomi Chrisler July 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Still, I feel in which some of the finest packages on this planet these are known as roses. You ever tested arose?


  1. thank you for your public service, & yet i have some thoughts i’d like to share - January 31, 2010

    […] Right. You mean all the people around here extra-keyed up about child abduction – although they hardly need a local event for that sort of hysteria, given our media prods the abducted child meme with more grotesque exploitation than a Girls Gone Wild vide…. […]