Two abducted boys were found in a St. Louis suburb last Friday, in the home of a pizza shop employee. One had been missing for less than a week, the other for more than four years. Slate.com notes that many news reports cited a statistic that 800,000 children disappear every year–or about 2,000 a day. Those data are easily misinterpeted, Slate says. Like most crime statistics, abduction numbers depend on whether the crime gets reported and how you define abduction.
Saying a child is “missing” can mean any number of things; a child who has run away from home counts the same as a kidnapped murder victim. For officials, the total number includes those who fall into several different categories: family abduction, nonfamily abduction, runaways, throwaways (abandoned children), or lost and “otherwise missing” children. Local police departments register missing children with the federal National Criminal Information Center database, specifying what type of abduction it is. Of the 800,000, only about 115 were “stereotypical kidnappings,” defined in one study as “a nonfamily abduction perpetrated by a slight acquaintance or stranger in which a child is detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom or abducted with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.” On the other hand, many missing persons aren’t reported at all–a 1997 study estimated that only 5 percent of nonfamily abductions (in which a nonfamily member detains a child using force for more than an hour) get reported to police.