When Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped by strangers, and eventually found, both the abduction and recovery made national news. Many people consider stranger abduction to be the typical type of kidnapping, when, in reality, it is rare and part of a much more complex issue.

Of the nearly 800,000 children reported missing in 1999, most were runaways or thrown-aways — children who are forced to move out of their house by their parents. This group was followed by children who were missing with benign explanations (374,000), according to the Second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children(NISMART-2), conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Other missing children were included in one of the following categories:family abductions (203,900); missing involuntary, lost or injured (61,900);and nonfamily abductions (58,200). In addition, 115 children were the victims of the most serious, long-term nonfamily abductions, typically known as“stranger abductions.”

However, stranger abduction...

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