Forensic Psych

Child Abduction: A Theory of Criminal Behavior

This is a paper I just finished this week on child abduction. It is my theory on this criminal behavior. It is a total of 23 pages (with title page, abstract and references). It was pretty interesting to write. I hope you find it interesting to read as well! As always, this is my work, so do not steal/copy/plagiarize. Thank you!


Child abduction is a serious crime that is falsely believed to be an epidemic in theUnited States(Shutt et al., 2004). Child abduction only makes up 2% of all violent crimes against children and juveniles (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000). There are two main types of child abduction, namely, family abduction and nonfamily abduction, and each type involves different causal factors, developmental factors, and different motives because different types of offenders tend to commit each of these abductions (Boudreaux et al., 1999; Erikson & Friendship, 2002; Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000; Miller et al., 2008). Some motivations that were suggested overall were the needs for homeostasis, control, order, and significance. Child abduction is not something to take lightly, and with the research presented in this paper the author hopes to shed light on the usual offenders, the typical motivations, what to expect during a typical family or nonfamily abduction investigation, and what preventative measures are available.

Keywords: child, juvenile, abduction, typology, motive, family, nonfamily, kidnapping

Child Abduction: A Theory of Criminal Behavior

On July 31, 1994 the lifeless body of 7-year-old Megan Kanka was found in a localNew Jerseypark (Hennessey, 1994). She had been abducted, murdered, and left in a weeded area; a parent’s worst nightmare. The American public is well aware of the risk of child abduction, but what it does not realize is that child abduction is in fact a rare event. The abduction of children makes up less than 2 percent of all the violent crimes against children that are reported to the police (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000). In fact, family abductions are much more common than stranger abductions, but the media has sensationalized so many stranger abduction cases that citizens believe stranger abduction is on the rise; that it is an epidemic of sorts (Shutt, Miller, Schreck, & Brown, 2004). Shutt et al. report, however, that there is no evidence of an epidemic. These small percentages of abductions by strangers still terrify our nation, and with good reason. The idea of a stranger taking and harming a child is terrifying for any parent and to public in general. This paper will define child abduction, discuss how prevalent each type is, what motivates the offenders of each type, and lastly, discuss what sorts of prevention plans and interventions there are for child abduction cases.

Definition and Statistics

            There are two types of child abductions, namely, family abductions and nonfamily abductions (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000). Family abduction is defined as:

the taking or keeping of a child by a family member in violation of a custody order, a decree, or other legitimate custodial rights, where the taking or keeping involved some element of concealment, flight, or intent to deprive a lawful custodian indefinitely of custodial privileges. (Hammer, Finkelhor, & Sedlak, 2002, pp. 2)

This the most common type of child abduction, making up 49% of all reported kidnapping offenses. Nonfamily abductions occur when an offender who is not a family member:

takes a child by the use of physical force or threat of bodily harm or detains a child for at least 1 hour in an isolated place by the use of physical force or threat of bodily harm without lawful authority or parental permission. (Sedlak, Finkelhor, Hammer, & Schultz, 2002, pp. 4)

Nonfamily abductions involve 2 separate categories, namely, acquaintance and stranger abductions (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000). Acquaintance abductions involve an abductor who is an acquaintance of the child, and makes up 27% of all identified offenders. The last type, as described by Finkelhor and Ormrod (2000), is the rarest type known as stranger abduction. This involves kidnapping by someone who is a stranger to the child and makes up 24% of all identified offenders. Forty-three percent of family abductions are committed by female parents while 95% of stranger abductions are committed by male offenders. Equal proportions of male and female children are abducted by family members, but 72% of stranger abductions involve female victims and 64% of acquaintance abductions involve female victims. The child’s age at which they are abducted differs among the 3 types as well. Family members abduct younger children, ages 6 and under, 43% of the time, while acquaintances and strangers tend to abduct teenagers (children between the ages of 12 and 17) 71% and 57% of the time, respectively. However, strangers also tend to abduct elementary school-aged children 32% of the time as well (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000).

Megan Kanka was one of these elementary school-aged children abducted by a male offender. However, her offender was an acquaintance; her neighbor.

On July 29, 1994, Megan Kanka was reported missing (Hennessey, 1994). Her neighbor, Jesse Timmendequas, invited her over to see the new puppy he had bought (“Man Charged,” 1994). He pulled her inside his room, strangled her with his belt and sexually assaulted her (“Suspect Confessed,” 1994). He proceeded to hide her body in a toy box and drive to a park three miles away from her home where he dumped the body in some weeds next to a portable toilet (Hennessey, 1994; “Suspect Confessed, 1994). He was apprehended and confessed a few days later.Timmendequas was a convicted sex offender who had been charged with sexual assault and attempted sexual assault of two young girls in the 1980s. He was charged with the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Megan on October 20, 1994 and sentenced to death (Peterson, 2001; “Region News,” 1994). This is a fairly typical case of a stranger abduction involving typical motives. However, not all types of abduction involve the same motives.

Conceptualization of the Behavior

Family Abductions

The typical family abductor is a Caucasian male in his 30s (Miller, Kurlycheck, Hansen, &Wilson, 2008). He is usually the father or the father figure of the child who is involved in some sort of dispute with his partner. He is more likely to abduct a younger child rather than a teenager. Overall, it is not abnormal that the partners abduct out of anger or of fear of the outcome of a custody dispute, or that they want to get the child out of an abusive situation. This behavior could be considered abnormal and problematic, however, if the abductor has a history of violence or emotional instability, and usually there is some sort of problem (Hegar & Greif, 1991). Oftentimes, the parent-abductor lacks healthy decision-making skills and has difficulty working within and negotiating with the court systems (Barnard & Peery, 2006). He or she does not feel that it is necessary to follow the custody arrangements or listen to those who are there to help in the custody situation, such as children’s services or law enforcement. These can be problematic and somewhat abnormal characteristics for parents to exhibit. Essentially the abduction behavior develops out of a problematic relationship with the other partner. Whether the problem involves anger, abuse, or retaliation, the partner who abducts their child is slightly abnormal because he or she chooses to abduct their own child instead of abiding by the law and attempting to prove that he or she is capable of sharing custody or is capable of having full custody of the child. While this is somewhat of an abnormal behavior, there is rarely any violence involved within these types of cases and children are usually located and/or returned home safely in about 97% of the cases (Hammer, Finkelhor, & Sedlak, 2002).

There are numerous possible motives for a family abduction. When you are looking at the biological level, the parent-abductor may have some sort of brain condition that predisposes them to be paranoid, disturbed or emotionally unstable (Hegar & Greif, 1991). This predisposal may cause them to desire to rescue their child from the other partner who they view as dangerous or as not caring for the child. If they are emotionally unstable, they may see any sort of problem with their partner as a personal assault or as a revelation of their partner’s incompetence as a person or parent. There could be numerous speculations about a person who may be emotionally unstable or disturbed. On a conscious/dynamic level, the parent-abductor may have thoughts and ideas that are a little skewed from those of a normal parent, or they may be acting based on their feelings. They may be angry or upset with the other partner or at the court system that handled any custody disputes, and they may act on those feelings, more or less leading to or causing the abduction to take place (Hegar & Greif, 1991). On a relational level of analysis, if there is abuse in the family this could lead the non-abusive parent to abduct the child to rescue them from the abuse. The parent could also abduct the child for the purpose of revenge against the other partner for perceived wrongs or because of the hatred they feel for their partner (Hegar & Greif, 1991; Miller et al., 2008). On the social/cultural forces level of analysis, there may be social forces or peer influences, such as family or friends, in the parent-abductor’s life that help them to justify the abduction. Family or friends may tell the offender that they have every right to take their child from their partner and essentially provide them with a list of justifications which will help lead to the actual abduction. On the environmental level, the circumstances that surround the family may lead to the abduction. If the parent-abductor has started to grow tired of arguments, disputes, court hearings, etc, they may decide to simply flee the whole situation. If there is a time when the abductor has the child alone, he or she may go ahead and take the child because the opportunity was available (Hegar & Greif, 1991; Miller et al., 2008). Based on these analyses, I find the relational level to be the most sensible in the case of a family abduction. If the parent-abductor is abducting their own child, I believe it more than likely involves a mix of three main reasons, specifically, fear of losing the child or not being able to see the child any longer, anger at the other parent, or rescue of the child from abuse. While there is a chance that the parent has a biological problem, or is being influenced by others, or even that he or she took the child out of opportunity, the most plausible explanations involve their intimate relationship with the other parent. Assuming that the couple has been together at least a year or longer, they will have become quite intimate and probably rather attached to one another. If problems develop in their relationship over time, such as a divorce or separation, custody disputes over the child, or abuse within the family, there will be a lot of emotions involved. One parent may feel threatened, wronged or unloved by the other partner and desire to get revenge for the perceived wrongs. Taking the child will save him or her from abuse, if there is abuse, leading to revenge on the other parent who may be seeking custody over the child. Based on my study of theses levels of analyses, I find that problems with a partner will be the most plausible explanation as to why one parent abducts their own child.

While these different levels of analyses can help us to explain family abduction behavior, this is not exactly the same thing as knowing what truly motivates these offenders to abduct their children. The most common motivations reported for this behavior according to research are suspected abuse by another family member, fear of losing custody, fear of losing rights to see the child after custody disputes, anger at the other partner, or revenge against the other parent (Hegar & Greif, 1991; Miller et al., 2008). These can be summed up into primary motives. The desire to rescue the child may be about the parent’s need for control and significance; to take back the power in their life that the abuse has taken away and to feel as though they are competent to take care of their child and rescue them from the abuse. The fear of losing custody of their child and the fear of not being able to see their child in the future may involve the need for order and control. They may desire to feel certain that they are free to see their child whenever they wish and have a structured life that they control. If the court limits the custody of the child, the parent may lose that certainty, freedom, and structure that they desire to have. The anger and revenge aspects may involve the need for significance, control, and nurturance. The parent may feel as though they need to express their feelings and that they deserve to be loved. They may also have a need for control over the situation. The abduction of their own child may be the means of fulfilling these motivations and needs.

Nonfamily Abductions

            Nonfamily abductions, such as acquaintance abductions and stranger abductions, involve different offender typologies and motivations than are seen in family abductions. The typical nonfamily abductor is a Caucasian male in his 20s or 30s who will most often victimize a female child between the ages of 15 and 17 (Miller et al., 2008). There is a slight tendency for the offender to be an acquaintance of the child, accounting for 27-30% of all child abductions, as opposed to being a complete stranger, which accounts for 20-24% of all child abductions. Three out of every 4 cases of nonfamily abductions will involve an offender with a prior criminal record that spans across many different areas of the state and/or country (Beasley, Hayne, Beyer, Cramer, Berson, Muirhead, & Warren, 2009). This criminal record will often involve an array of crimes involving violence, drugs, and/or property crimes. It is fairly likely that 30-45% of these offenders will have prior assault charges, burglary or larceny charges, and/or forcible sexual assault charges listed among their prior arrests. However, the majority of the offenders studied did not have a juvenile criminal record, but instead began offending during adulthood and had been offending for an average of 11-12 years before the abduction occurred. To give a useful example of this type of offender, let us re-examine Jesse Timmendequas, the man who abducted, raped, and murdered Megan Kanka in 1994 (“Suspect Confessed,” 1994). Timmendequas was 33 years old at the time, was an acquaintance/neighbor of the victim, and had a prior criminal. The State of New Jersey v. Jesse Timmendequas (1998/1999) case states that his criminal record involves a vehicle theft, one aggravated assault charge, and 2 sexual assault charges, all of which were within 10-15 years before he murdered Megan. As can be seen, Timmendequas fits the typical nonfamily abductor profile quite well. He was a male acquaintance in his 30s with a prior criminal record that was not limited to sex offenses and spanned many years, which is consistent with the research on nonfamily offenders who commit abductions (Beasley et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2008).

There are two common offender typologies that are relevant in nonfamily abductions (Masino & Sheppard, 2006). The first of these is known as the “Power Reassurance Offender” who is more than likely single, disheveled, emotionally scattered, socially isolative, seen as an odd individual who is an underachiever with low-skill employment, and who has a history of sexual fetishes and enjoyment of pornography. He chooses the victim in order to fulfill his fantasy and desire for power, and he tends to feel an attachment to the victim. He seeks verbal reassurance from the victim throughout the abduction because he believes that the act is occurring between two consenting individuals. This suggests that the abduction behavior for this type develops over time. The individual began in isolation, enjoying certain fetishes and pornography, but soon he desired contact with a real person. As he is emotionally scattered and odd, he may have poor decision making skills and go on to choose to abduct the person he is attracted to rather than approaching the situation in a more acceptable fashion. This would certainly make the abduction behavior abnormal in that the offender is looking to fulfill his fantasies through a victim that does not, in reality, return his attachment and feelings. The second typology discussed is known as the “Anger Excitation/Sadistic Offender” (Masino & Sheppard, 2006). This individual is considered intelligent and typically has a higher level of education. He is accepted socially and may even be married or have a stable relationship with a significant other. He will devote a lot of time and resources when planning for the abduction. The victim is chosen to fulfill his complex system of fantasies. He will use some sort of trick or con in order to make contact with the victim and to abduct her, and is unemotional about the abduction or any crime that he commits during the period of abduction. This suggests that the abduction behavior for this type has developed over time as well. The offender has carefully thought through and planned the abduction over some period of time in order to fit his system of fantasies. Somewhere in his seemingly normal life he has consciously chosen to cultivate these fantasies and has decided to abduct someone to help fulfill them. While these two typologies will not include every child abduction offender, they do provide useful examples that demonstrate how the abduction behavior may develop over time (Masino & Sheppard, 2006).

With these developmental factors of nonfamily abductions having been noted, the key causal factors and motivating factors must now be discussed further to help us understand the needs, interests, and desires of the offender and why they committed the crime. There are many levels of causation that could be investigated in regards to nonfamily abductions. On a biological level, this type of offender could be trying to meet their basic biological needs for food and sex (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000; Miller et al., 2008). As most male victims are abducted for the purpose of being robbed, the offender may be trying to obtain some money in order to meet his financial needs for food, etc. If the offender is abducting for sexual purposes, he may be attempting to meet that basic need as well. Alcohol or drug abuse could be a possibility within the biological level as well, impairing the offender’s ability to think clearly and possibly causing him to abduct a child. In fact, it has been found that child molesters who abducted their victims had a tendency to be under the influence of alcohol during their offense (Prentky, Knight, Burgess, Ressler, Campbell, & Lanning, 1991). On a conscious/dynamic/emotive level, the offender could lack impulse control and have poor decision-making skills, or his mind-set could justify his actions (Masino & Sheppard, 2006). As mentioned earlier, the Power Reassurance offender typically is emotionally scattered and isolative, and is viewed as an odd individual. This would suggest that he may lack impulse control and have poor decision making skills. If this is true, he will likely abduct a child without considering the consequences. He may also have some sort of mental instability or issues which help him justify the kidnapping. And example of this would be when the Power Reassurance offender takes the victim and believes that she is a consenting, intimate partner, when in reality she is not. His fantasy world has helped him justify his actions in reality. On a relational level, the offender may lack empathy for his victim, or either desire to be loved by his victim. Again we can refer to the two typologies from earlier (Masino & Sheppard, 2006). The Anger Excitation/Sadistic offender shows no emotion about the crime he committed. He commits the crime solely to help him fulfill his fantasies; he lacks empathy for any suffering he is subjecting his victim to. On the other hand, the Power Reassurance offender takes his victims in a belief that the victim loves him or will love him. He is committing the crime for the victim’s affection and love, not necessarily to harm her. On a social/cultural/lifestyle level, the offender may have excess time in his life and may be isolative, which may lead him to develop sexual fantasies that involve a child victim. This can also be seen in both of the typologies mentioned by Masino and Sheppard (2006). The Anger Excitation/Sadistic offender meticulously plans his crime before he commits it, and he is doing all of this because he has cultivated some sort of fantasy that he wants to bring into reality. The Power Reassurance offender is known to be an isolated individual with few friends who has sexual fetishes and fantasies. This isolation combined with fantasies may eventually lead him to desire contact with a real individual, and so he chooses to abduct this person because he probably lacks social skills. On an environmental level, the offender may see an opportunity to abduct a child who fits perfectly into his fantasy. Teenage children are often abducted within two miles of their homes because they are likely to be more independent and mobile, which provides the perfect opportunity for an offender who is searching for a child to fulfill his needs (Boudreaux et al., 1999). I find that the social/cultural/lifestyle level explains the nonfamily abduction behavior the best. If the offender is living a certain lifestyle, that will have a large impact on how he behaves socially and how his mind-set develops. Social isolation leads to a reliance on fantasy (Ressler, Burgess, & Douglas, 1988). When an individual lives an isolated lifestyle, he or she will probably not have sufficient social skills to interact well with others in public and he will probably begin to live a life that is more fantasy-based than reality-based. This social isolation, development of a fantasy world, and lack of social skills could easily cause the offender to abduct their victim in order to fulfill their needs instead of approaching their needs in a more acceptable manner.

There are many possible causal factors, but now we must discuss what the usual key motivations are within nonfamily abductions according to researchers. These types of abduction involve specific key motivations depending on factors such as the victim’s gender and the victim’s age (Erikson & Friendship, 2002; Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000; Miller et al., 2008). Overall, nonfamily abductions are more likely than family abductions to coincide with some other criminal activity such as sexual assault or robbery (Miller et al., 2008). For female child victims, sexual offenses occurred in 23% of the abductions by acquaintances and in 14% of the abductions by strangers (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000). Strangers were also likely to abduct a female child with the intent of robbery according to this report, but this is still not quite as likely as abduction with the intent to commit a sexual offense. Female teenage victims were abducted by acquaintances who were current or former boyfriends 19% of the time (Boudreaux, Lord, & Dutra, 1999). For male victims, sexual offenses occurred in less than 10% of the abductions by both acquaintances and strangers (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000). Acquaintances and strangers were more likely to assault or rob their male victims during the abduction than commit a sex offense. It would appear that female victims of acquaintance or stranger abductions are commonly abducted for sexual desires (Boudreaux et al., 1999; Miller et al., 2008). This would suggest that some possible primary motives for the typical nonfamily offender who abducts a female child could be homeostasis, nurturance, control, and/or significance. The offender may have a biological sex drive that needs to be met and may choose to abduct someone to help him reduce this need and to find the satisfaction that he was seeking. The offender may also desire affection, love or intimacy with another person. The “Power Reassurance Offender” typology discussed earlier is a good example to illustrate these motives involving nurturance and significance (Masino & Sheppard, 2006). This type of offender believes that the person he has abducted is consenting and that they are intimately involved. He may be seeking these feelings of intimacy and attachment from his victim. He may also be motivated by a desire for significance in which he desires to feel sexually and emotionally competent, to receive attention, and to be loved. He may abduct the child in order to meet these needs and desires. This may also apply to the 19% of abductions that are committed by the victim’s current or former boyfriend. The boyfriend may desire to feel loved, intimate, or committed to the victim. He may also have a need for competence if the breakup left him feeling useless or incompetent within a dating relationship. He may kidnap his current or former girlfriend to fulfill these needs and desires. Another possible motive of a nonfamily abductor who takes a female child may be the need for control. He may feel the need for power and dominance, and abducting a child and forcing her to fulfill all his desires could serve as a way for him to feel powerful and dominant. These same needs and desires could motivate the small percentage of offenders who abduct male children to commit sexual offenses. However, males are more likely to be abducted by acquaintances or strangers for robbery or other types of assault (Boudreaux et al., 1999; Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000). Most of the motives listed in the research for abducting a male child are profit-related, such as cases involving drugs, robbery, or extortion (Boudreaux et al., 1999). As this is the case, the primary motives for these types could be the need for growth, control, and/or significance. The offender may abduct the child in order to rob him because he is trying to survive. The offender may be struggling financially and abduct the boy in order to take his money and any possessions that could be sold for money. The offender may also have a desire for freedom, power, and dominance, and abducting and robbing a child may help him to exert his power and dominance over the child, who is a weak target. The abduction may also demonstrate that he has the freedom to do whatever he desires. Lastly, the offender may have a need or desire for identity, status or approval. If the offender is a member of a group, especially a criminal group such as a gang, he may abduct and rob the child as an initiation into the group. If this is the case, he desires the approval of the group, and the abduction will help him meet these needs. Each nonfamily abduction situation involves a different mix of motives and causes just as each family abduction does. However, these types of abductions occur rarely when compared to family abductions and that is a fact that should be taken into consideration when any child abduction occurs (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000; Steidel, 2006).


            Family abductions and nonfamily abductions must be handled in different manners when dealing with prevention, investigation, intervention, and recidivism. Most of the research on family abductions suggests that it is likely to reoccur and tends to focus on preventative interventions for children and their potential parent-abductors, while most of the research on nonfamily abductions tends to focus on interventions involving sexual offenders, deterring recidivism, and providing abduction prevention training to children (Fortney, Baker, & Levenson, 2009; Johnston, Sagatun-Edwards, Blomquist, & Girdner, 2001).

Family Abductions

When a child goes missing at the hands of one of their parents, an investigation will likely begin by examining court records to understand any custody disputes or other cases involving the parents (Barnard & Peery, 2006). The investigator will also interview the parent who is left behind along with other family members and friends who may be able to help move the investigation along. They are likely to find that some of the family members or friends will attempt to defend the abductor. The investigator must try to overcome this problem by showing the abductor’s family and friends that he simply wants to bring the child home safely. Investigators must use information sources such as credit bureaus and motor vehicle bureaus along with information about the abductor’s hobbies, social interests, and organizational memberships in order to understand his or her tendencies and lifestyle. When the child and abductor are located, the abductor will be placed under arrest. In many cases, the family may not want to file any charges against the abductor because they feel as though the family and the child have already gone through enough trauma (Barnard & Peery, 2006). In fact, only 15% of all reported cases result in arrest (Grasso, Sedlak, Chiancone, Gragg, Schultz, & Ryan, 2001). Those who were arrested were more likely to be individuals with a prior criminal record and a history of alcohol or drug abuse. Prior complaints between the abductor and the complainant also increased the likelihood that the abductor would be arrested. Of those arrested, the cases that involved prior custody disputes or child endangerment were more likely to be opened by prosecutors, but of the cases that were opened, 31% were dismissed. Grasso et al. also report that if the abductor is arrested and charged, it is likely that he or she will be charged with custodial interference and released on probation with conditions such as attending parenting skills classes, paying restitution to the victim, or staying away from the child.

There are some preventative measures that can be taken to ensure that abduction does not occur (Johnston et al., 2001). If there has been a previous abduction or a threat of abduction, the other parent can obtain a restraining order that prohibits her partner and child to leave the area without her permission. She can also flag the child’s passport and other records so that both she and her partner must approve of releasing the information, and the family can also go to counseling. If one parent believes that abuse has occurred by the other parent, they should have an investigation done, have temporary supervised visits, and provide their child with therapy. If one parent is paranoid delusional, it is suggested that

visits be suspended, the parent be provided with psychiatric treatment, and that the child be provided with therapy as well. If a parent feels alienated from the legal system, it is suggested that the parent should be provided with culturally sensitive divorce and custody counseling and that the parent and their social network should be educated about abduction laws in order to deter the abduction. The vast majority of children (91%) who are abducted by family members are returned and the family member is highly unlikely to reoffend (Hammer, Finkelhor, & Sedlak, 2002). Only 10% of the offenders who were arrested for a family abduction were later re-arrested for a subsequent abduction according to Hammer et al.(2002). Overall, family abduction is a common occurrence but the offender is not likely to reoffend (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000; Hammer et al., 2002). Those who do reoffend are typically the offenders who were convicted of the abduction according to Hammer et al. While it can be seen that there are ways to prevent reoffending, it is suggested that criminal conviction may not be the proper preventative technique.

Nonfamily Abductions

            When children go missing at the hands of a stranger, the investigation process is different than that of a parental or family abduction (Masino & Sheppard, 2006). When the child goes missing, the investigators will collect any physical evidence at the scene of the crime and examine it. They will also usually set up a wire tap at the family home, canvass the neighborhood, interview the parents, review law enforcement records to check for any connections with other cases, and compile a list of local sex offenders. The investigator must work quickly and efficiently in nonfamily abductions because children face the most danger within the first three hours after the abduction, according to Masino and Sheppard (2006). In fact, around 88% of children who are abducted by nonfamily members are killed within 24 hours after being abducted (McKenna, Brown, Keppel, Weis, & Skeen, 2006). There may also be many problems locating the child and their abductor in nonfamily abductions, such as few leads, little evidence, and no witnesses to the abduction (Masino & Sheppard, 2006). This makes it even more difficult for a child to be found in the first 24 hours. According to Masino and Sheppard (2006) a child must be examined for evidence of sexual assault if they are found and they must also be interviewed if they are found alive after the abduction. Many nonfamily abductions cases (46%) involve sexual assaults, so it is important for the child to have a physical examination (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000; Masino & Sheppard, 2006). If a suspect has been located, arrested and convicted of child abduction, he or she will receive a minimum of 20 years in prison according to the Protect Act of 2003 (Steidel, 2006). Because this is the case, most of the research on preventative measures discusses sex offenders who abduct their victims. Most sex offenders do not reoffend (Fortney, Baker, & Levenson 2009). Sex offenders reoffend less than 25% of the time. In fact, studies suggest that child molesters reoffend less often than rapists- 13% and 20% respectively. Sex offenders who have participated in treatment programs are less likely to reoffend than those who did not participate. Participation in the treatment programs was even more likely to reduce recidivism rates for first time offenders according to Fortney et al. (2009). However, the offenders had to do more than simply attend treatment; they had to actively participate in it in order to see an effect on recidivism. Some of the most effective types of treatments were outpatient, non-prison based treatments using cognitive-behavioral treatments and hormonal treatments (Brooks-Gordon, Bilby, & Wells, 2006). Cognitive-behavioral treatments involve attempting to change the individual’s thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and physiological arousal as well as their behavior, such as their coping behaviors and social skills. This type of treatment is usually based in the social learning theory. Another type of treatment mentioned by Brooks-Gordon et al. (2006) that is often used is behavioral intervention, also known as behavior modification or behavior therapy. These interventions include “aversion therapy (exposure to deviant material followed by aversive stimulus), covert sensitisation (imagining deviant sexual experience until arousal and then imagining powerful negative experience), [and] olfactory conditioning (an unpleasant odour is paired with a high-risk sexual situation)” (Brooks-Gordon et al., 2006). One last type of therapy that may be used is psychodynamic therapy which involves insight-oriented or supportive approaches in an individual session. These offender treatments are only one part of the interventions involved in nonfamily abductions. There are also pre-abduction interventions for children that teach children abduction-prevention skills (Johnson, Miltenberger, Knudson, Egemo-Helm, Kelso, Jostad, &Langley, 2006). These involve behavioral skills training (BST) combined with in situ training, which means that the children are learning to say “no” when presented with an abductor’s lure, walking or running away from the abductor immediately, and telling another adult about the incident. Children with this training tended to perform better on safety skills tests than children who were not trained using BST and in situ training according to Johnson et al. (2006). There are many things that can be done to prevent a nonfamily abduction, whether it is done before or after the actual offense. A nonfamily abduction is not very likely to occur, but it can be prevented and there are ways to keep the abductors from reoffending (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000; Johnson et al., 2006).


            Child abduction is a serious crime that has been sensationalized by the media and is now believed to be an epidemic in theUnited States (Shutt et al., 2004). However, this is not true. Child abduction only makes up 2% or less of all violent crimes against children and juveniles (Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000). There are two main types of child abduction, and each involves different causal factors, developmental factors, and different motives because different types of offenders commit each type of abduction (Boudreaux et al., 1999; Erikson & Friendship, 2002; Finkelhor & Ormrod, 2000; Miller et al., 2008). Some motivations that were suggested overall were the needs for control, order, significance, homeostasis, and nurturance. Child abduction is not something to take lightly. With the knowledge of the typical offender, typical motives, and the highlights of an abduction investigation that were compiled and presented in this paper, law enforcement and the general public can have a better understanding of what to expect when a child goes missing. The research presented here will be useful in helping to solve future cases. For families like the Kankas, however, the research presented in this paper came a little too late and they have already lost a child. Crime will still continue, but the research introduced in this paper may lead to a better understanding of child abductions in the future.



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14 comments for “Child Abduction: A Theory of Criminal Behavior

  1. Riplee
    June 3, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    I totally agree that statistics are not always great or are not always reality. Many horrible things are not reported or are done in secret. As this was simply a research paper done while I was in grad school, statistics are what I had to rely on at the time. I’m very sorry to hear you encountered what you did. No one deserves that. I pray that you have or will find peace in the world. I’ve personally found it through Jesus Christ. The Bible says that Jesus is a living spring, constantly bringing refreshing water (and peace) to your soul. I pray you can find that in Him as well. Thank you for pointing out that statistics are not always correct – because that is absolutely true.

  2. Riplee
    June 3, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    Trafficking absolutely occurs all too frequently. This paper never intended to discuss trafficking, but rather two primary types of abduction. My research found that the two types were familial and stranger. No doubt trafficking of children could fall under either of those two categories. In fact, I read an article just today about a mother who was using her 2 young teenage daughters as prostitutes to help pay for her addiction to crack cocaine. All of it is very sad and very troublesome. Thank you for your comment and your bringing up an additional aspect of abduction.

  3. Riplee
    June 3, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Awesome! I’m glad my paper was able to help you out 🙂 I hope your paper went well!

  4. Riplee
    June 3, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Awesome! I’m glad my paper was able to help you out 🙂 I hope your paper went well!

  5. Also no name.
    June 2, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    You missed sale of child/sex trafficking across the border in Mexico; use of babies produced/ Selling babies back to US couples.

  6. Crugg
    April 6, 2016 at 12:54 am

    I was a boy who was abducted and tortured for sadistic pleasure. Your statistics are crap. Of course nobody knew about it because nobody gave a rat’s ass about me, hence why it happened in the first place. There are things that happen in this world that no statistics will ever show. Statistics are not reality.

  7. D.E
    March 30, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you. You help with my research paper.

  8. Beverly Phillips
    September 26, 2015 at 1:50 am

    Thanks, it helped a lot. I have to do a study case for my forensic psychology class and I didn’t know how to get started.

  9. Riplee
    May 8, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Stephanie,

    If you look through my references at the bottom, there are quite a few studies done. Some of them I got from websites that you can check out and others I found on academic databases such as EbscoHost. If you have access to academic databases like that, they’re full of great articles! I haven’t done much research on this lately, so I’m not sure of anything new, but hopefully my references and the databases will help. If you do a google search of some of the article names, they may pop up too…you just never know! Sorry I can’t be of more help with that. Let me know if I can help with anything else. And good luck on your paper!

  10. Riplee
    May 8, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Are you designing a study for this paper? And are we talking cross sectional versus longitudinal? (Just trying to make sure we’re on the same page!)

  11. Stephanie
    May 8, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    I have another question also. If I do continue with a research proposal such as this, would cross-sectional research design be the best approach?

  12. Stephanie
    May 8, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Hi Riplee,

    I came across your website and thought it was really interesting. I am a college student taking a research and methods class. I have to write a research proposal as our final project. I recently came across a video that went viral that was child abduction. I thought it was really interesting how some of the kids talked to a stranger and even willingly walked away with him. Do you know if there are any studies that have been done on child abduction?

  13. noname
    April 9, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    It helped, thank you

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