Unfounded Fears of Pedophile Rings, Stranger Danger, and Satanists

Kids are pretty safe, it turns out.


Pavel Losevsky / Dreamstime

A new Department of Justice study shows that the crime parents obsess about the most—the abduction and murder of a child by stranger—is less likely than ever.

As I write in today's Wall Street Journal:

In the past two decades stranger-danger child murders have dropped enormously, according to a new Justice Department report.

In 1997 there were 115 "stereotypical" kidnappings of children under age 17—"stereotypical" roughly translating to "like the ones you see on 'Law & Order.' " These are kidnappings at the hands of a stranger or slight acquaintance.

Last week the department released a bulletin with figures for 2011. Roughly the same number of kidnappings, 105, occurred, but only 8% ended in murder. In 1997, by contrast, 40% did. Today, children kidnapped by a stranger have a 92% chance of making it home.

David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and one of the authors of the report, told me he believes that technology has helped make kids safer. The perps are easier to track and the kids are easier to find, thanks to cell phones, GPSing and security cameras.

So what of the other big fears of our age, like the fear of children being abducted by strangers they meet on the internet? The study found only one victim of such a crime. 

Okay, well how about all the sex trafficking? The study found that 16-18 girls were kidnapped for that purpose. Unconscionable, yes. And extremely rare. 

Well, are kids at least being stolen by pedophile rings? The DOJ found zero cases of this happening.

How about stolen by Satanists? Zero again.

What's more, the report also found that the victim profile most of us have in our heads—young moppets on their way to school—does not match with reality.

"The poster kids for stranger-danger have often been very young," Mr. Finkelhor says. But that's a misperception. The most common victims are girls aged 12 to 17, with sexual assault being the biggest motive.

Of course, all these findings will most likely not sway the Hollywood writers, who keep grinding out tales of stranger danger. Or the politicians, who keep passing pointless laws as if the country is crawling with kidnappers. Or the cops, who keep arresting parents who don't hover over their kids 24/7.  

And it probably won't stop the busybodies from calling 911 when they see a child outside unsupervised. 

But it is nice, nonetheless, to be able to gaze upon a study that proves our kids are pretty safe—however hard society tries to deny it.