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HC4
Finkelhoretat!ABDUcnONBYSTRANGERS227
Thisstudyusedthreeapproachestoestimatetheincidenceofnonfamilyabductionsofchildrenfor1988:anationalsurveya/householdswithchildren,anationalsurveyofpolicerecords,andananalysisofFBIhomicidedata.Estimateswerederivedforthreedifferentlydefinedtypesofevents:stereotypicalkidnappings,
in
whichastrangerperpetratortookachildovernight,oradistanceof50milesormore,orkilled,ransomed,orevidencedanintenttokeepthechildpermanently(200
ro
300children);legal-definitionnonfamilyabductions,inwhichastrangerorothernonlamdymembertook,detained,orluredachild,ofteninconjunctionwithanothercrimesuchassexualassault(3,200
10
4,600children);andattemptedabduction,inwhichanunsuccessfulattemptwasmade
10
take,detain,orlureachild(114,6(J()children).
TheAbductionofChildrenbyStrangersandNonfamilyMembers
EstimatingtheIncidenceUsingMultipleMethods
1988;Gentry,1988).Althoughmissingchildren'sadvocacyorganizationseventuallydisavowedsuchfigures,noreliablealternativesweresubse-quentlydeveloped.Toremedythis,Congressandthefederalgovernmentundertooktofosterstudiesthatwouldfillthegapandprovideestimatesnotjustforstrangerabductionbutforotherkindsofso-calledmissingchildren'sepisodes,suchasfamilyabductionsandrunaways.TheresultwastheNationalIncidenceStudiesofMissing,Abducted,Runaway,andThrownawayChildren(NISMART).ThisarticledescribesthemethodologyandfindingsofoneportionoftheNISMART:theefforttoestimatethenumberofchildrenabductedbystrangersandothernonfamilymembers.
DEFININGABDUCTION
DAVIDFINKELHOR
UniversityofNewHampshire
GERALDT.HOTALING
UniversityofLowell
ANDREAJ.SEDLAK
Westal,Inc.
Fromthebeginning,muchofthecontroversyaboutnonfamilyabductionhasbeenaboutdefinitions,notnumbers.Estimatesofabductionsusingalegaldefinitionhavecreatedconfusionanddisbeliefwheninterpretedusingthepopularstereotypeofastrangerkidnapping.Thelegaldefinitionofabduction,althoughvaryingfromstatetostate,canmeanthecoercivemovement("asportation"inlegalterms)ofapersonevenasmalldistance-inCalifornia,courtshavesetitat22feet-aswellastheunlawfulconfine-mentofavictimforaperiodoftimeasshortasahalfhour(Diamond,1985;Kanter,]983).Thusmanyviolentcrimescanentailabductionasanelement.Thepopularstereotypeofkidnapping,however,drawsitsimageryfromnationallynotoriousandtragiccasesofabduction(Alix,1978)likethoseinvolvingthelindberghbaby,BobbyFranks,andmorerecently,AdamWalsh,'andtomostpeople,entailstheremovalofachildfromhisorherhomeandparentsforanextendedperiodprimarilyforpurposesofransom,sadisticorsexualassault,orevenmurder.Whenadvocatesformissingchildrenc1aimedthattherewere"thousandsofstrangerabductions,"manydiscriminatingpeoplefounditimplausible,basedontheirexperiencefromthenewsandfromtheirneighborhoods,becausetheywerethinkingofcaseslikeAdamWalsh.Butusingalegaldefinition,suchanincidenceofabductionswasnotnecessarilyimplausible.Forexample,theFBI(FederalBureauofInvestigation,1985)inthemid-1980sreportedclose
to
90,000forciblerapesevery
year."
Children(mostcommonly,teenagegirls)accountedforonethirdtoonehalfofthecases(Katz&Mazur,1979).Becausemanyforciblerapesmayinvolveenoughcoercivemovementordetentiontoqualifylegallyasabductions,
it
wasnotoutofthequestiontothinkthattherewerethousandsoflegallydefined
Thenumberofchildren
abductedbystrangershasbeenthesourceofprotractedcontroversy.Inthewakeofastringofchildkidnappingsandmurdersintheearly1980s,thenationexperiencedoneofitsperiodiccrimepanicsfocusedonstrangerabduction,whichculminatedincongressionalaction(theMissingChildren'sActof1982andtheMissingChildren'sAssistanceActof1984)_Inthepublicityandlobbyingsurroundingthatpanic,thenumbersofstranger-abductedchildrenwerewidelyquotedashighas50,000peryear(Best,1990).Thesefiguresandthehysteriaoverstrangerabductionwerewidelycriticizedbythepress(Griego&Kilzer,1985)aswellas
by
scholars(Best,
Authors'Note:Thisresearchwasfunded
by
CooperativeAgreemenl#87-MC-CX-K069withtheU.S.DepartmentofJustice,OfficeofJuvenileJusticeandDelinquencyPrevention.TheauthorsthankDianeCarmody,PeggyPlass,andJohnBrownforassistanceindataanalysis,ElizabethRoyal
fOT
helpinmanuscriptpreparation,andmembersoftheFamilyViolenceResearchSeminarforhelpfulcomments.
JOURNALOFINTERPERSONALVIOLENCE,Vol.7No.
2,
June1992226-243©IlJ92SagePublications,Inc.
226
 
228JOURNALOFINTERPERSONALVIOLENCE
I
June
1992Finkelhoret
al.
I
ABDUC1l0NBYSTRANGERS229
abductionsofchildreneachyear.Recognizingthatconfusionwascreatedbythesetwocompetingconceptionsofthecrimeofabduction,theresearchersbelieveditnecessarytocountabductionsusingtwodefinitions,onecorre-spondingtothe
legal
view,thelegal-definitionabduction,andonecorre-spondingtothepublic
stereotype,
thestereotypicalkidnapping.Thecoreelementofabductioninbothdefinitionsinvolvesthecoerced,unauthorizedmovementofachild,thedetentionofachild,ortheluringofachildforthepurposesofcommittinganothercrime.However,thestereo-typicalkidnappinghasmorestringentrequirementsconcerningtime,dis-tance,andtheidentityofthe
perpetrator.'
Legal-definitionabductionsincludeany"nonfamily"perpetrators:forexample,acquaintances,neighbors,andbaby-sitters,aswellasstrangers.Thiscategorywasusedbecauseitincludesallthepotentialperpetratorsnotcountedinthestudy'sFamilyAbductioncategoryandistheonecurrentlypreferredbythefederalgovernment.Itrequiresonlyasmallamountofcoercedmovement.Itincludescaseswhereachildwassimplytakenforciblyintoavehicleorbuildingoradistanceofmorethan20feet.Thelegal-definitionabductionhaslenientrequirementsforthetimeduringwhichthechildmustbedetained.lfthechildwasforciblymoved
or
lured,thenanyamountoftimewassufficient.
If
thechildwasdetainedwithoutmovement,thenonly
1
hourofdetainmentwasrequired.Incontrast,thestereotypicalkidnappingappliestotheseverekindsofcaseswhere
strangers
areperpetratorsand(a)thechildwasgoneovernight,or(b)thechildwastransportedadistanceof
50
milesormorefromthepointofabduction,or(c)thechildwaskilled,
or
(d)thechildwasransomed,or(e)theperpetratorevidencedanintenttokeepthechildpermanently(seeFigure
1).
Inadditiontocompletednonfamilyabductions,theNISMARTalsotriedtodefineandcounteventscalledattempted
nonfamily
abductions.
It
wasrecognizedthatchildrencanbefrightenedandharmed,andthepolicecanbecalled,insituationswhereabductionswereattemptedbutwereunsuccess-ful.Anattemptwasdefinedasasituationinwhichanonfamilymembertriedtotake,detain,orlureachild.Iftheactionhadbeensuccessful,thesituationwouldhaveprobablymetthecriteriaforalegal-definitionabduction.Admittedly,however,thereisahighdegreeofsubjectivityintheat-temptedabductioncategory.
It
isinherentlydifficulttojudgewhat
wouldhavehappened
inasituationhaditcontinuedorwhatapotentialperpetrator'sintent
mighthavebeen.
Nonetheless,itwasfeltappropriatetoincludeacategoryofattemptednonfamilyabductionbecauseitisanindicatorofthepotentialdangertochildrenandanimportantcomponentofpublicpercep-tionsabouttheproblem.However,attemptsarecountedseparatelyandare
()
STEREOTYPICALKIDNAPPINGS
o
LEGAL-DEFINITIONABDUCTION
TOOK
or
DETAINED
or
LURED
Figure1:NonfamilyAbductionDefinition
n?tincl~dcdinthetotallegal-definitionabductionorstereotypicalkidnap-pIng
estimates,
METHODOLOGY
:0
estimatethenationalincidence"ofnonfamilyabductionsforal-ycarper:od
(1988),
threeindependentmethodologieswereused:alarge-scale
national
ho~s~holds~n:ey,anationalstudyofpolicerecords,andareanalysisof
FBIhornicidestatistics,
Therelianceonthree
methodologies
grewoutofco~c~rnsthatgiventherarityoftheproblemandalsotheinadequaciesof
official
recordkeeping,nosinglemethodologycouldbecountedontoyield
a
reiiablercsuIt.
HouseholdSurvey
.Th~natio~alsurvey,conductedbyWestat,Inc.,consistedoftelephoneInterviewsWIthcaretakersin10,544randomlyselectedhouseholds,whoreportedabouttheexperiencesof
20,505
children,aged17yearsoryounger.The"caretaker"ineachhouseholdwasdefinedasthatpersonwhotookcare
 
230JOURNALOFINTERPERSONALVIOLENCE
I
June
1992Finkelhoretal.
I
ABDUCTIONBYSTRANGERS231
Asurveyofpolicerecordsinanationallyrepresentativesampleoflawenforcementagencieswasconductedtoestimatethenumberofnonfamilyabductionsknowntolawenforcement.Theresearcherswereconcernedthatnonfamilyabductions,especiallythemoreseriouscases,mightnotoccurfrequentlyenoughtobereliablycountedthroughthehouseholdsurveybutthatasystematicnationalsurveyofpolicerecordsmightprovideenoughcasestoderiveareliableincidenceestimateaswellasprofileinformation.First,anationallyrepresentativesampleof21countiesin16differentstateswasselectedusingamethodthatguaranteedrepresentationofallregionsofthecountryandalllevelsofurbanization.Thesecounties,whichincludedLosAngeles,CookCounty(Chicago),andtheboroughofManhat-tan,contained13%ofthetotaland10%ofthechildpopulationoftheUnitedSlates.Then,withineachcounty,theresearchersrecruitedstatepolice,countysheriff,andmunicipalpolicedepartmentsthathadjurisdictionoverandmaintainedfilesoncriminaloffenses.Whenthereweremorethanfivemunicipalpoliceagenciesinacounty,fiveweresampled.Ultimately,
83
agenciesinthe2Icountieswerefoundtohavefilesonthetypesofcasesofinteresthere.Alloftheselectedagenciesagreedtoparticipateinthestudy.(DetailsconcerningcountyandagencysamplingmethodsaregiveninthereportonpolicestudymethodologybySedlak,Mohadjer,McFarland,andHudock
(1990J.)
Themajorchallengeforthisstudywastoidentifyabductioncasesinwhatwerefrequentlyvoluminouspolicerecords.Unfortunately,policeagenciesdonotgenerallykeepaseparatefileinwhichtheystoreallcasesinvolvingabductions.Manyabductionsoccurinconjunctionwithothercrimes,suchashomicideandrape.Exploratorydiscussionswithlawenforcementoffi-cials,criminologists,andmissingchildren'sadvocatesandthefindingsofapreviouspolicerecordsstudyofchildabduction(NationalCenterforMissingandExploitedChildren,1986)indicatedthatfourgeneraltypesofcrimeclassificationswouldcontainmostofthereportedcasesinvolvingnonfamilyabductions:abduction,missingpersons,homicides,andsexualassaults.Inpreliminarycontactswiththeparticipatingpolicedepartments,itbecameclearthatwhereasasurveyofhomicide,abduction,andmissingpersonsfileswouldberelativelystraightforward,sexoffensesrecordswouldposeasignificantproblemforthetimeandbudgetconstraintsofthestudy.Inmanyjurisdictions,sexoffensecaseswerehandledbymorethanonedivision,
so
multiplefilesystemswouldhavetobesearched.Moreover,therelevantfilesweretypicallyverylargeandheterogeneous,includingmanytypesofrecordsthatwereoutsidethescopeofthestudy(e.g.,voyeurism,indecentexposure,andoffensesperpetratedbyfamilymembers).Forthesereasons,thesurveyofsexoffenserecordswaslimitedto4ofthe21studycounties:twolarge,onemedium-sized,andonesmall.Combined,thesefourofthechildrenmostofthetimewhentheywerestayinginthathousehold;9outof
10
wereparentsandtheremaindermostlygrandparents,aunts,anduncles.Thesamplingframeconsistedof
60,000
randomlydialedtelephonenumbers,whichyielded
34,820
actualhouseholdsaftereliminatingbusi-nesses,nonworkingnumbers,carphones,andnumbersthatneveranswered.Ofsuchhouseholds,only
11,617
hadchildrenwhohadresidedthereforatleast
2
weeksduringtheprecedingyear.In1,250ofthesehouseholds,theresearcherswereneverabletotalktoacaretakerorthecaretakerrefusedtoparticipateorbrokeofftheinterviewatsomepoint.Completedinterviewsrepresentaresponserateof
89.2%
ofthehouseholdsknowntohavechildren.Theearlyportionoftheinterviewconsistedofaseriesof
"screener"
questions,askingaboutavarietyofsituationsofinteresttothestudythatcouldhaveoccurredintheprevious12monthstoanychildwhoresidedinthehouseholdfor2weeksormore.Anonfarnilyabductionepisodecouldhavebeenrevealedinresponsetoanyoneofthreequestions:"Wasthereanytimewhenanyonetriedtotake[anyofthesechildren]awayagainstyourwishes?";"Wasthereanytimewhenanyonetriedtosexuallymolest,rape,attack,orbeatup[anyofthesechildren
]?";
or"Hasanyoneeverkidnappedortriedtokidnap[anyofthesechildren]?",Ifrespondentsansweredyestoanyofthesescreeners,someadditionalqualifierswereaskedtomakesurethattheperpetratorwasnotafamilymemberandthattheeventhadoccurredintherelevanttimeperiod.'Thentheywereaskedalengthyseriesofquestionsabouttheepisode.Thedetailsoftheepisodewerecarefullyevaluatedagainstthedefinitionofanonfamilyabductionorattempt.Onthebasisofthecasesthatmetthedefinitionalcriteria,nationalestimateswerederivedthroughaprocessofweightingupfromthesampletothe
67
millionchildrenintheUnitedStates.Weightswereadjustedtocompensateforhouseholdswithouttelephones,forthosehouseholdswithmorethanonephone,andfornonparticipatinghouseholds.Theyalsotookintoaccounttheprobabilityofselectionofchildrenwhohadlived
(2
weeks)inmorethanonehouseholdduringtheyear.TheywerealsoadjustedforsmalldifferencesbetweenthesampledemographicsandthoseoftheU.S.popula-tion.(AdditionaldetailsareavailableinSedlak,
Mohadjer,
andHudock's
[1990
J
technicalreportonthesurvey.)PoliceRecordsStudy

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