THE FIVE ACTS OF THE LOST GIRL
From First Transgression to Exquisite Death
THE CAST OF CHARACTERS
The Little Demon
The Absent or Evil Mother
The Absent or Over-Protective Father
A Litany of Lost Girls
Remarking upon our continuing fascination with lost girls – from Persephone to Elizabeth Smart. The sensational stories in the news, vying for time with and sometimes even eclipsing reports on bigger issues like war and terrorism. What is it about these girls that makes them mean so much to us? Who are they, why are their stories so compelling, and why are they so much the same?
PART ONE: TRANSGRESSION
Keep to the Path and You Will Come to No Harm
Examining transgression as the motivating force in the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Eve in the Garden of Eden, and Alice in Wonderland.
PART TWO: ABDUCTION
A Modern Epidemic of Abduction
By now the stories are all too familiar. A girl is missing: vanished from the family’s back yard, snatched from the bus stop or stolen from her own bedroom. The pictures on the evening news have become a ghostly reminder of childhood lost. These stories are heartbreaking for everyone; parents’ grief is all but unbearable. No surprise then that across the nation, parents fear their child could be next. Justice Department research indicates the risk of abduction by a stranger is relatively low for preschoolers, but increases through elementary school and peaks at age 15. Teen-age girls are considered most vulnerable. Frightened parents wonder how the society in which they are raising families got this way. Some blame the media for reporting these cases. The FBI charges that reporters distort the facts with fear-driven stories about monsters preying on children. Others blame our libertine culture and its obsession with sex.
PART THREE: DISAPPEARANCE
Missing! – The Search for Lost Girls
We’ve all seen the flyers: Big bold letters that cry out “Missing!” A photograph of the girl – posed smiling brightly, chin in hand – and a brief description – height, weight, hair, eyes. Last seen… Please call… Faces of missing girls started appearing on milk cartons in the 80’s. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 2001, 840,279 persons – adults and juveniles – were reported missing and entered into the FBI’s national crime computer. As many as 725,000 of those reported missing were juveniles. On average, 2,000 children per day were reported missing to law enforcement in 2001, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. While most missing children are eventually returned safely to their parents, a small group of them are victims of more predatory abductors. The average victim of abduction and murder is a “low risk” 11-year-old girl from a middle-class neighborhood with a stable family relationship who has initial contact with an abductor within one-quarter mile of her home – this is according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office.
PART FOUR: CAPTIVITY
The Rapunzel Syndrome
Likely the single most pervasive image evoked in the popular mind by the term “fairy tale” is that of a maiden in distress leaning from a tower window and searching the horizon for a rescuer.
PART FIVE: DEATH
“Girl’s Body Found”
The all-too-familiar headline that marks the end of the story of a girl who has gone missing.
It’s Only a Story, Right?
Drawing some conclusions from the stories we’ve examined – finding parallels, repetitions, links. Suggesting that listening to our own stories might help us normalize our perceptions and change the way that we think about the real live girls in our world, neither idealizing nor demonizing them, as well as the roles that the rest of us are called upon to play in their lives.