The real statistics
Child abduction is the airplane crash of parental fears.
Intellectually, we know the odds: The chances of dying aboard a plane are slim (Lifetime odds: 1 in 500,000, and that’s for frequent fliers). But emotionally, we aren’t convinced. Flying scares us.
The difference, though: Despite our fears, we continue to fly. To refuse to board a plane would be to condemn ourselves to a limited life.
But we think nothing of limiting our children’s lives, based on fears that are even less likely to be realized.
As most people know by now, the majority of child abductions are custody related. There are also thousands of “lesser” nonfamily abductions, which “do not involve elements of the extremely alarming kind of crime that parents and reporters have in mind,” according to a 2002 U.S. Department of Justice report. Examples included in the report: a 17-year-old girl held in her ex-boyfriend’s car for four hours; a 14-year-old boy held at gunpoint by a man who accused him of hunting on his property; a 15-year-old girl forced into the boy’s bathroom at school and sexually assaulted.
Not happy scenarios, but not Lifetime television special material, either.
But how common are what the Justice Department calls “stereotypical” abductions, the nightmare-caliber crime involving a stranger or slight acquaintance who whisks away a child with the intention of holding him for ransom, keeping him or killing him?
Statistics vary, but not by much. Some estimate about 40 such cases occur each year in the United States. The Justice Department report says there were 115 cases in 2002.
Either way, with 60,700,000 children 14 and under in the United States, the odds of your child being the victim of an Adam Walsh-style abduction are roughly 1 in a million.
You’d be wiser to cancel those horseback-riding lessons. Your child is more likely to be killed in an equestrian accident. (Odds in one year for people who ride horses: 1 in 297,000.) Or better yet, pull him off the football team. (Yearly odds of dying for youth football players: 1 in 78,260.) And if you really want to protect them, sell your car. (Lifetime odds of dying as a passenger: 1 in 228. Odds of dying this year alone: 1 in 17,625.)
Or, to put another spin on it, your child is 700 times more likely to get into Harvard than to be the victim of such an abduction.
Chances that the kidnapped child will be killed are smaller still. The U.S. Department of Justice says 40 percent of the 115 victims were murdered.
Horrific, yes, but “almost certain not to happen,” says Stearns.
“But our emotions overwhelm our ability to calculate reality.”
What we’ve given up
Some say that if altering our lifestyles saves even one child, those measures are worth it.
But in protecting our children from the unlikeliest of scenarios, in the vain hope that no child will ever be hurt, we are inflicting greater harm on all of them.
To be continued…
This article is reprinted with the permission of the author, Nicole Neal, The Palm Beach Post.