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.

An Urban Legend

In which a child is spirited away from an amusement park or shopping center by a kidnapper who alters the appearance of his victim before smuggling her out the exit.  This type of tale has been circulating for decades, always involving the kidnapping of children from family-type public places such as amusement parks and shopping centers.  A kidnapper snatches a girl away from an inattentive parent, drugs her, and hustles her into a restroom; there the abductor performs a quick haircut, dye job, and clothing change on the girl to conceal her identity and obscure her gender, wraps her in blankets, then quickly and quietly spirits her out of the place.  The story ends with the discovery of the child’s original clothing on a restroom floor, along with other evidence of what transpired, such as loose hair, scissors, and a bottle of hair dye.

“Stolen,” an October, 2001, episode of NBC’s “Law & Order” opens with a baby girl being kidnapped from a grocery store.  The abductor takes her to a bathroom, drugs her, changes her clothes, and cuts her hair.

Swept Away by the Knight in Shining Armor

A girl’s dream of abduction, of being swept off her feet and carried off by Prince Charming… or by the wolf.  Examining the psychology of kidnapping – the fear of abduction by a stranger as well as the appeal of being carried away from this world into another by forces beyond our control.

Taken by the Fairies

In fairy lore, preserving innocent young women from temptation was a duty which their fathers and husbands and brothers took on willingly.  Many stories deal with the protection of a young woman from the fairies in this way. In fact, the temptation offered by the demon lover is actually one of escape –  not necessarily into fairyland but away from the castle, the daily routine, the family.  Outside there is another world, the greenwood, with its own exotic inhabitants.  Glamour is, above all, a fairy power.  It changes the appearances of things, making the foul fair, and the fair foul.  Stolen wife and changeling stories are common in fairy lore.  Gervase of Tilbury tells of a girl child in Catalonia who was carried off in consequence of an angry word from her father, when he was tired of her crying. Seven years later, news came that the mountain demons were prepared to return her.  The repentant father climbed lonely mountains, and called out for his child. “Like a sudden gust of wind she came, tall in stature, but wasted and dirty, her eyes rolling wildly, and her speech inarticulate.”

The Abduction Narrative – Alien Abductions

“Being kidnapped or made love to by a stranger is a very common fantasy for most women.  And fantasy is what romance novels deliver!  The kidnapping in a romance is high drama without ‘real life’ danger.  It forces two people from very different worlds to relate to one another – usually under extremely close circumstances.  The result: the two fight, fall in love and work together to find a happier ending.”  – www.romantictimes.com

Comparing women’s claims of alien abduction to the kidnapping motif as it gets played out in the modern romance novel.  The alien abduction narrative turns out to be a strange hybrid of humiliating surgical invasion tempered by cosmic awareness.  Experiencers travel through windows and walls, tunnels and space-time to reach the starship’s examining table, where young women’s eggs are extracted and men’s sperm are siphoned off.  Despite waking bruised and violated, abductees say their love for beings in the alien realm can surpass any human bond and generate a sense of oceanic oneness with the universe that rivals the experiences of a world-class meditator.

Persephone, beautiful young daughter of Demeter and Zeus, who in Greek mythology was abducted by Hades and taken to his underground kingdom.  After much protest, she came to love the cold-blooded king of the underworld.

Patty Hearst, 19-year-old granddaughter of publishing baron William Randolph Hearst who in 1974 was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley by the leftist Symbionese Liberation Army.

Child Abductions – Kid Nabbing

The word kidnapping is a variation on the term “kid nabbing,” a practice that originated in England when children were “nabbed” by entrepreneur pirates who sold them to rich tobacco plantation owners in colonial America.  It wasn’t until the second half of the 19th century that professional criminals thought of seizing a human hostage and holding him for ransom.  Kidnapping, which was widespread in Europe and Asia, did not become commonplace in America until the early part of the 20th century.  Although, cases of child abduction existed, they were extremely rare and always involved boys, until 1927, when Marion Parker, the 12-year-old daughter of Perry Parker, a prominent banker in Los Angeles, was abducted from her school by a man who called himself “The Fox.”

Snow White, who was abducted by the Wicked Queen’s huntsman when she ordered him to take the 7-year-old girl to the forest and bring back her liver and lungs.   The man tried to obey, but when he pulled out his hunting knife he couldn’t stab such a beautiful, innocent child.  Instead, he left her to be eaten by wild beasts and returned to the queen with the liver and lungs of a young boar. Believing they were Snow White’s organs, she had them boiled in salt and ate them.  Meanwhile the terrified little girl was alone in the forest until she came upon the cabin of the Seven Dwarves, who took her in and kept her safe… for a while.

On July 15, 1976, in an incident that came to be known as the Chowchilla Kidnapping, a busload of California children aged 5 to 14, and their school bus driver, Ed Ray (then 55), were abducted on a country road in Madera County about 4 p.m. on their way back from a swim outing at the fairgrounds. The bus was later found empty, covered with bamboo and brush in a drainage ditch nine miles west of town. The victims, nineteen girls and seven boys, along with Ray, were driven around for 11 hours in two vans before being entombed in a mover’s van buried in a Livermore rock quarry.

12-year-old Polly Klass was hosting a slumber party for two of her friends on the night of October 1, 1993.  It was her first sleep-over party ever, and the girls were having a fun time, laughing, hiding under the covers, and acting silly. When Polly went to retrieve pillows from another room, she was confronted by a large, hulking man armed with a knife.  He kidnapped Polly and fled the home.

Also mentioned: Jon Benet Ramsey, 6-year-old beauty queen whose “personality could light up a room.”  On early December 26, 1996, Patsy Ramsey called 911 to report her daughter missing from her bedroom and a ransom note demanding $118,000.  Elizabeth Smart, 14-year-old Utah girl who was abducted at gunpoint from her bedroom early June 5, 2002, while her parents and four brothers slept.  Samantha Runnion, 5-year-old Los Angeles girl who was playing with a friend when a man claiming to be looking for his lost puppy snatched her from the rear driveway of her home on July 15, 2002.  Erica Pratt, 7-year-old girl who on July 22, 2002, was kidnapped and taken to an abandoned building in Philadelphia’s northwest section, bound with duct tape and locked in a basement.  She freed herself by chewing through the tape, smashing through the door, and breaking a window to yell for help.  Go Erica!

Parental Kidnapping – A Case of Custody

Since the 1970s, the State Department says it has been contacted for help in about 11,000 international child abductions where a parent was involved. The Justice Department reports some 354,000 cases of parental abductions a year, without identifying how many are international.  The State Department estimates an average of 400 to 500 new international cases per year – a number critics charge is a vast underestimate.  The International Parental Child Abduction Act was enacted in 1993, but only 50 cases have been brought, with as few as 10 convictions.

Trafficking in Girls

Looking at the phenomenon of “white slavery.” The original use of the term came in a “moral panic” in the United States at the turn of the century, when there was a perception that this form of abuse was a danger to every young woman.  On July 6, 1885, the “Pall Mall Gazette,” one of England’s daily newspapers, began a series titled “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.”  The series was an instant sensation, rocking English society and sending shockwaves throughout Europe and into the United States.  The public outcry that followed forced the British Parliament to enact specific legislation and led to the establishment of local organizations and international networks which survive to the present day.  The topic of “The Maiden Tribute” was white slavery – the abduction, sale, and organized rape of English virgins.

The re-emergence of “white slavery,” now called “trafficking in girls” as a political issue for feminists, human rights organizations, religious groups and others, and its reappearance on national and international political agendas can be dated from the beginning of the 1980s.  Modern accounts of “trafficking in girls” vie with “white slavery” stories in their use of sensational descriptions and emotive language, though the “victims” are no longer white, western European, or American girls, but third-world/non-western girls.  In the typical “trafficking” narrative, the village girl or girl from a third-world/non-western country is abducted or “lured” to the city/the west by promises of well-paid jobs or marriage.

Lily Gilkeson who, in 19th century New Mexico, is kidnapped by a band of outlaws led by an Indian witch in Ron Howard’s 2003 film “The Missing,” which was based on a novel by Thomas Eidson.  Comparing this to “The  Searchers,” whose  screenplay was adapted by Frank S. Nugent (director John Ford’s son-in-law) from Alan Le May’s 1954 novel of the same name, that was first serialized as a short story in late fall 1954 issues of the “Saturday Evening Post,” and first titled “The Avenging Texans.”  Various similarities existed between the film’s script and an actual Comanche kidnapping of a young white girl in Texas in 1936.

Fear Mongering or Fair Warning?

“F.E.A.R., A Parents’ Guide to Kidnap Prevention.”  In which F.E.A.R. stands for:  (F) – FIND a way out of the situation, (E) – ESCAPE from the situation, (A) – ALWAYS be AWARE of danger, and (R) – RUN away as fast as you can.

The idea here is to teach kids to take care of themselves, find ways out of bad situations, consciously look for ways to escape a kidnapping – such as, if they’re thrown into the trunk of a car, for example, kicking out the tail light from inside to attract the attention of a police officer – always be aware of danger, avoiding dangerous places and never letting their guard down – “not for a second” – and run away from a stranger at the first hint that something might be wrong or seem out of place.

But what happens when these sorts of scare tactics are used on girls?  Do they inhibit her natural curiosity, breed paranoia, hinder social development, and interfere with her natural desire to know people and forge meaningful relationships?  Or are they just necessary precautions taken in a most dangerous world at a most dangerous time?