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Elizabeth Smart’s Kidnapping – What Are The Odds?

A kidnapping flashback has appeared in the news recently.  Elizabeth Smart, known for being kidnapped at age 14 in 2002, has been participating in a long-awaited trial for her abductor.  She was missing for nearly nine months while the nation watched and waited.  The relief was palpable when she was finally discovered alive and reunited with her family.

Kidnapping and “stranger danger” are huge emotional hot buttons for parents.  When a community experiences something like this, everyone becomes more alert and worried.  It’s like one of those mystery detective shows, except it includes names and places you personally recognize.  It’s surreal and it’s unnerving.  It makes you want to keep your kids in your direct eyesight until they move away from home.  Just writing about this makes me a little unnerved.

But let’s put aside all the emotion for a minute.  Elizabeth Smart’s trial has made me wonder what the odds are for child or teen kidnappings and abductions.  Looking around the internet this morning, I found a few interesting things.

Child Kidnapping Statistics:

  • About half of all child kidnappings are by family members (usually a parent)
  • About 25% of child kidnappings are by acquaintances, 25% are by strangers
  • 800,000 juveniles are reported missing each year (including runaways), and 3,000-5,000 are stranger abductions
  • Of these 3,000-5,000, 200-300 are the most serious cases involving intent to keep, murder, or ransom

Stranger Danger and Family Abductions

Absolutely you need to warn your children about strangers trying to make them get into cars, take candy, etc.  These things do happen and kids should always be aware of this potential risk.  Kids need to trust their instincts and err on the side of caution, whether they recognize the person or not.

But the odds suggest you also need to be personally aware of anyone in your family circle who might have reason to take a child without permission.  I’m not suggesting that you start getting suspicious of everyone.  But if you know there is high conflict or violence within a parenting relationship (either yours or someone you know), your awareness should be up.

Resources On Kidnapping And Child Abductions

I found two excellent websites outlining some tips for parents in difficult custody situations.  That’s where the potential risk for family abductions can be high.  I also found two other fact-filled web pages about more general kidnapping information.  Please take a look at these sites at the bottom of this post and review the tips and recommendations.

Many suspected kidnappings are actually runaways.  Some of these tips about keeping good records can help with those situations as well.  Also, if your child does run away and finds themselves in trouble, anything you’ve done with them to keep them aware of dangerous situations can help them come home safely.

You can’t go wrong preparing yourself and your children for a bad situation like this, no matter how unlikely.  Inform and prepare your kids without causing excessive fear – a challenging task, but one you can do in small steps if you prefer.  Hopefully, none of you will ever need to use what you know about child abduction.


Creative Commons License photo credit: Selma90

Elizabeth Smart’s Kidnapping – What Are The Odds?

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2010). Elizabeth Smart’s Kidnapping – What Are The Odds?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 10 Nov 2010
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