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This section deals with the abduction of a child by a complete stranger, or an abduction of a child by someone who is not the child’s parent/guardian (for example, an acquaintance, another family member, etc.).

The abduction of a child by a complete stranger is the rarest, but most alarming type of missing child case. While these types of cases seldom occur in Canada, when they do happen, communities can be changed forever. This crime can have an enormous impact on society, generating wide-ranging media coverage, as well as an overwhelming response from the community.

Due to the serious nature of this crime, it is important to act quickly. The police need to be notified immediately so that appropriate steps can be taken. How law enforcement choose to respond is based on the information that is available to them — for example, the police may consider issuing an AMBER Alert, a comprehensive plan that involves widespread media broadcasts in order to engage a community in the search, if a child abduction has been confirmed, and law enforcement believe that the child is in imminent danger. Only law enforcement is able to activate an AMBER Alert.

The following sections provide important information on the subject of stranger or ‘non-family’ abductions, including safety strategies parents can teach their children in order to reduce their risk of victimization as well as important resources for parents and communities dealing with the trauma associated with the abduction of a child by a stranger.

Understanding Abduction

The crime of abduction is a much broader issue than people may perceive. It includes scenarios the public would typically think of as abduction, such as when a child is taken by a stranger off the street and goes missing for a long period of time. However, the definition of abduction may also include situations where a child is abducted for a very short period of time, is located safely and may not have been taken very far. There is no “minimum” period of time that a child needs to be missing for it to qualify as an abduction — all that is required is that the child be taken out of the possession of, without the consent of and against the will of the parent or guardian.

To add to the confusion, the terms “stranger abduction” and “non-family abduction” are terms that are used to describe both cases when a child is taken by a complete stranger, and cases when a child is taken by someone other than his or her parent. In the latter case, the abductor may be an acquaintance, a relative that is not a parent, or someone else that the child has had some kind of contact with — so an individual who is technically not a “stranger” in the ordinary sense of the word. This section addresses both types of situations: when a child is abducted by a complete stranger as well as when a child is abducted by a person known to them in some way. We use the term “stranger abduction” throughout the section to refer to both types of cases. For more information about abductions of children by parents, see the Parental Child Abduction section.

Reports that include high numbers of children abducted by “strangers” often include all of the above examples of abductions in the statistics. It is important to recognize that cases where the abductor is known to the child are far more common than cases where the abductor is a complete stranger — also, cases where the child is abducted for a short period of time are far more common than cases where the child is abducted for a long period of time.

Research shows that of the 58,000 non-family abductions each year in the United States, 63% involved a family friend, long-term acquaintance, neighbour, caretaker, babysitter or person in a position of authority and only 37% involved a stranger. The number of complete strangers is not insignificant but it remains far smaller than other offenders who have easy and legitimate access to children. (Source: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Children at Greatest Risk of Abduction When Going To and From School or School-Related Activities).

Reasons Why Stranger Abductions Occur:

An individual may abduct a child for a number of reasons, the most common reasons cited include:

  • For a Sexual Purpose – The majority of abductions committed by non-family members are motivated by the offender’s sexual interest in the child. In many circumstances, children are abducted, sexually assaulted, and released by the offender. The vast majority of these types of offences are committed by males.

  • Financial Incentives/Motives – These types of child abductions occur because an individual intends to profit from the abduction — this may include kidnapping a child for ransom, taking a child during the commission of a theft of a car, or exploiting a child through black-market industries such as adoption rings, etc.

  • To Exert Control, Aggression or Violence – These types of child abductions are rare — they are motivated by an offender’s desire to control, dominate and cause harm to a child and/or a child’s family. In some cases, it is an act of retaliation or retribution against a parent, a family or a community for a perceived wrong or out of some sort of debt (e.g. drugs, gangs, gambling, etc.).

  • Due to Emotional/Mental Health Issues – An example of this type of child abduction would be a female offender who takes a very young child or newborn thinking that the child is, in fact, her child or with the desire to make the child “her own.” Another example of this type of child abduction would be an individual who has suffered a trauma, such as the loss of a child, takes another individual’s child to replace what has been lost. These types of offences are rare, and committed by offenders with severe mental health issues.

Keep in mind that there are exceptions to every rule, and until the child is located, it is difficult to determine the motivation of their abductor.

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