America’s Hidden Crime: When the Kidnapper is Kin
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Introduction and methodology
These findings are from a telephone survey conducted by Harris Interactive, Inc. for the Polly Klaas Foundation during the period January 2-4, 2004, among a nationally representative sample of 1,021 adults comprising 511 men and 510 women living in private households in the continental United States. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 3.1 percent.
The intent of the poll was to measure the public’s perception of family abduction and to gauge support for federal policies to prevent family abduction.
A total of four questions were included as part of this omnibus survey. The polling results are as follows:
Question 1. Which one of the following do you believe to be the greatest danger for American children?
Abduction by a family member – 19%
Abduction by a stranger – 24%
They are both equally dangerous – 56%
Total responding that stranger abduction is more dangerous or equally as dangerous as family abduction – 80%
Don’t know (volunteered response) – 1%
Fact: In 1999, approximately 203,900 children were abducted by a family member. Stereotypical stranger abductions accounted for only 115 cases. Less than one-fifth of respondents were correct.
Question 2: Based on everything you know, what percentage of children abducted in the U.S. are taken by a family member?
0 to 24% – 15%
25% to 50% – 30%
51% to 74% – 36%
Total Responding less than 75% – 80%
75% to 100% – 16%
Don’t know (volunteered response) – 3%
Fact: In 1999, family abductions comprised 78 percent of all child abductions in America, but only 16% of respondents were aware of the true extent of family abduction.
All survey respondents were then read the following statement:
“The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention estimates that approximately 203,000 children a year are abducted by a family member, which accounts for 78 percent of all child kidnappings in the U.S. Victims of family abduction are often deprived of medical care and education, and psychologists now classify family abduction as child abuse because of the intense secrecy, isolation and separation of the child from their loved ones and the long-term emotional trauma.
The federal government currently makes limited training available to state law enforcement, and nearly 70 percent of law enforcement agencies do not have guidelines or the resources to respond to family abduction.”
Question 3: Based on what you have just heard about family abduction, do you believe the federal government should do more to support state training of law enforcement regarding family abduction and investigation of those crimes?
Yes – 83%
No – 15%
Don’t know (volunteered response) – 2%
Question 4: Based on what you have just heard about family abduction, do you believe the federal government should assist states in informing parents on how to prevent family abductions?
Yes – 81%
No – 17%
Don’t know (volunteered response) – 2%
The results point out what is arguably the biggest hurdle in discouraging and preventing family abduction: the false belief that family abductions are less frequent than stranger abductions, and are not a common occurrence in America.
The vast majority (80 percent) of respondents consider stranger abductions to be the more or equally dangerous crime of the two, and continue to underestimate the pervasiveness of family abductions — only 16 percent of respondents were able to estimate an accurate percentage range of missing children abducted by a family member.
However, upon being informed about the true extent of the problem respondents expressed an overwhelming support for increased funding for law enforcement training on family abductions and prevention education among parents and families.
If a short 45-second statement can muster up such a strong recognition that family abduction is a problem in need of effective solutions, the possibilities of a targeted outreach and education program leave much room for hope.
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