(Editor’s note: This story is the first part of a multi-part series “Last Seen…,” examining the real-life horrors of kidnapping that begins in Issue #7 and concludes in Issue #12. Several staff members took it upon themselves to interview, take photographs and conduct research. The results of their combined efforts follow.)
by: NICOLE TRUGILLO/Editor-in-Chief
Losing a loved one from a kidnapping can tear a family apart, but being kidnapped by someone you trust can be traumatizing.
Many people believe that someone is more likely to be kidnapped by a stranger, than someone they know personally. That isn’t true.
According to Eve Margolis, center director and instructor for Kidpower Austin, the chances of someone being taken by a stranger are very low.
“[Kidnapping] is high in the media, and those are things that get published,” says Margolis. “But there is a higher percentage that kidnappings happen from someone that the person knows, which is why it’s so important to say no and to get help.”
Margolis does workshops for children, families, for teens, and adults on how to be safe. She teaches them about personal safety and how it has to do with setting boundaries. She also discusses with them about knowing their limits under greeting situations and knowing how to build strong relationships.
Kidnapping doesn’t always involve just strangers, because it could happen from someone who the victim knows.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions and 58,200 children were the victims of non-family abductions in 2014. At least 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping, meaning, this particular kidnapping involved taking the child more than 50 miles away, demanding ransom, threatening to kill or keep the child permanently.
According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC), acquaintance kidnapping involves higher percentages of juvenile perpetrators, which has the largest percentage of female and teenage victims. Females tend to be kidnapped more than males, and the kidnappings are more likely to occur at outdoor locations. The female victims tend to be involved with sexual assaults, while male victims tend to be involved with robberies, and will most likely involve a firearm.
According to NCIC, only one child out of 10,000 missing children reported to the local police is not found alive. But, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, victims who are involved in a stranger kidnapping are not found alive.
Kidnapping can happen anywhere and at anytime. In 80 percent of abductions by strangers, the first contact between the child and the abductor occurs within a quarter mile of the child’s home. These potential abductors grab their victims on the street or try to lure them into a vehicle. Kidnapping doesn’t have to be a scary topic, according to Margolis.
“The basic skills that we work on are how to say “no” and learning how to persist in saying “no,” Margolis explains. “That is one of the most important skills that will lessen a very high percentage that anyone might have. Learning to say no to somebody that they know or someone that they don’t know will help.”
Margolis explains that in their workshops they don’t focus on the “what if” situations, but on making children and parents more aware.
“We aren’t trying to create fear, because if a child is in a trusting relationship with an adult, or older child, it’s a lot harder to say no,” explains Margolis.
Margolis explains how the main organization located in California was found.
“The organization was started by Irene VanderZande, and it was about 27 years ago,” says Margolis. “Somebody came up to her and some other children that she was taking care of at a bus stop in Santa Cruz, Calif., and he threatened to take a couple of the girls. Irene stood in front of them, and she noticed that nobody else did anything. She had to get their attention and tell them to call 911.”
Margolis continues, “Irene realized that people don’t know what to do, and children don’t know what to do, and even she didn’t know if what she did was the right thing to do. She didn’t want anybody to be in that situation where they were in possible danger.”
Margolis believes that many people aren’t aware of what someone should do if he or she is a victim of kidnapping.
“That’s something that people don’t think about, because they don’t focus on that,” explains Margolis. “But if they hear about the kidnapping situation, then that will shed more light on the topic.”
According to NCIC, a child becomes missing or is abducted every 40 seconds in the United States. This translates into 90 children taken hourly, 2,160 taken daily, 15,120 taken weekly, 64,800 taken monthly, and 786,240 taken yearly.
“If people will educate themselves on what to do if they witness someone being abducted, or if they’re the potential victim, then we can limit those statistics,” says Margolis. “Awareness is key.”