February 25, 2007

Kidnapping Statistics

Today my dad advised me to install video cameras around our house. Over 300,000 children go missing or abducted every year in the United States, he said. And so his advice was to surveil the area to watch for any suspicious people that might be hanging about.

There are about 70 million children in the country, so his number of abductions would imply that every person has maybe a 1% chance of being snatched away before survivng to adulthood. If this was really true, it seemed to me, then the only thing police would be doing all day would be dealing with child hostages like some scene out of a summertime movie. Is kidnapping really as common as shoplifting?

Why do we fear kidnapping, terrorism, and airplane crashes? Aren't there more serious things in life to worry about? When I told my dad that his number must be wrong and that he was being nuts, he was adamant: "the number came from an expert on Oprah...."

Children Do Go Missing Often


The thing I love about the internet is that everybody's living room now contains a massive research library that is better than Oprah. Missing children statistics have been studied in NISMART-2, and the actual numbers are pretty illuminating.

According to NISMART-2, my dad is right that children are lost by their parents quite often, and child loss is something that does keep police pretty busy. The NISMART-2 estimate (based on survey-based sampling) is that 1.35 million children are lost by their caretakers every year, and about 0.79 million of these are reported to law enforcement. There is about a 1.8% chance that you will lose your child this year.

Here is a breakdown:

Episode TypeEstimated Total
Nonfamily abduction33,000*
Family abduction117,200
Missing involuntary, Lost, or Injured198,300
Missing benign explanation374,700

So there are the numbers.

Usually when children go missing, it is not because they are taken: it is because they run away, get kicked out, get lost, or some innocent confusion. And when they do get abducted, they are typically taken by relatives in a custody dispute.

*Of course, some children are abducted by strangers each year. The starred figure estimates children who are abducted by a nonfamily person for an hour or more. But these events are rare enough that the researchers had to make a special note that, due to the small sample size, their survey methodology cannot accurately measure the frequency. Their confidence interval for this figure is between 2,000-64,000.

To more accurately represent how many kidnappings happen every year, the NISMART researchers point us to law enforcement statistics that count children abducted overnight or subject to more serious threats. Using this definition, there were 115 kidnappings in the year of the study. So stereotypical kidnapping does happen, and it is dangerous, but it is a freakish occurrence. Getting hit by lightning is more common.

If you want to worry about losing kids, worry first about your runaways. Video surveillance is probably the wrong approach.

Posted by David at February 25, 2007 08:03 AM

Bruce Schneier wrote nice essay about psychology of security: http://www.schneier.com/essay-155.html

Posted by: Gia at February 26, 2007 12:28 PM

SO, if there is anybody here that can tell me more about this topic(missing persons) please post a comment

Posted by: CHristian at February 13, 2009 12:27 PM

The statistic of 115 kids stereotypically kidnapped comes from 1999. What has the growth trend over the decades been? Higher or lower in '49, '59, '69, '79, '89, '09?

By the way 57% (65.55 kids)of the 115 kids kidnapped were returned unharmed. The rest did not fare as well according to CNN but the report did not mention how many were harmed vs. how many were killed vs. how many were not found of the remaining 49.45 kids. I can't imagine why the statistic is not even. Were 66 ok and 49 hurt?

How many kids were there in 1999? 49 out of how many were harmed or killed?

How many became obese because they were not allowed to play outside and suffered from diabities and other weight related illnesses?

Posted by: Deborah at February 15, 2009 03:25 PM

I was reading my local paper when a story ran about a kidnapping in 1955 someone wrote in and said there were the same number of kidnapping's in the 50's and 60's as today.. Is this true?

Posted by: Wayne at June 16, 2009 08:55 AM

CA has some interesting information. In 2008, 114,157 kids went missing. 108,173 of those were runaways. 452 were abducted or suspected abducted. All these numbers have decreased over the past 10 years, which is what CA has available on the following website.


Posted by: Rich Proulx at June 29, 2009 02:19 PM

dear sir i want to start awarness programe about child kidnapping. your messages very hepful to me. please help me in future.


Posted by: shanmuganathan at September 21, 2009 04:21 AM
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