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What’s the Actual Risk of Your Child Being Kidnapped?

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Kidnapping remains one of the top 3 fears of American parents despite its (thank God!) rarity.

One way to fight that outsized fear is to watch the video below. Then, if you’re wondering about the actual odds of your child being kidnapped by a stranger — versus other, low-likelihood (thank God!) dangers — we’ve got plenty of stats below:

Video by Mike Kraus at MYLKmedia.

Note: It is hard to find stats that exactly match up with each other — for instance, there are different age cut-offs (13, 17, 18…). Nonetheless, here goes:

Bikes, Feet, Cars:




To see the trends from 1975 to the present, visit this graph. Good news: All those deaths have gone down tremendously!

Other dangers:

  • About 100 children, most younger than school age, die from falls, says Stanford Medicine.

Here are the “Top 10” risks to children, from Statista.

AND NOW: The Risk of a Child Being Kidnapped by a Stranger

The media like to report that “460,000 children go missing every year.” But that number does not represent children who are kidnapped, says University of Delaware Sociology & Criminal Justice Prof. Joel Best.

Instead, that number comes from a 2017 report by the Department of Justice on missing children. To qualify – we realize that’s a strange word — a person under age 18 just had to be missing for more than an hour.

So when the survey asked parents: Did your kids ever go missing? Some replied, “Yes,” and gave scenarios like this:

  • An 8-year-old got off at the wrong bus stop and his frantic parents called the cops.
  • A 10-year-old came home from the beach and went to bed – but her parents thought she was still outside.
  • A divorced mom violated a court order by taking her 9-year-old out of state.
  • A 17-year-old girl, pregnant, ran away. 

So, of the nearly half MILLION missing children, the report concluded (in a footnote), about 105 were “stereotypical kidnappings” – police-speak for abductions like you see on Law & Order. Most of those victims were teens. And 92% of them made it home safe.

A more recent DOJ study found “The data do not demonstrate any change in rates” from the earlier study.

So: The risk of a minor getting abducted by a stranger? With about 72 million kids 0-17 in America, the odds are about 1 in 720,000, or closing in on 1 in a million.

Other 1 in a Million Odds:

This list from Berkeley includes:

  • Odds that one of the next 24 babies born in the U.S. will become President.
  • Odds that 20 coin tosses in a row will come up tails.
  • Odds that you will win the California State Powerball lotto if you buy 6 tickets a week for a year.

A Little Last Bit of Perspective and Reassurance:

The risk of kids dying is going DOWN.

50 years ago the death rate was 6 children per 10,000 kids aged *1-19. Now it’s 2 per 10,000, says MacLean’s Magazine.

We are lucky to be living in these not-perfectly-safe but pretty-darn-safe times.


  1. CChris says:

    Explain exactly how it is preventable? Go ahead…let the canned talking points fly. They are facile, and they are wrong but, go ahead.

  2. AAdam Cohen says:

    Maybe I misunderstood Heather’s comment, but I thought she was saying, have the rates of *kidnappings* gone done because parents have become more cautious? After all, if they’re constantly being supervised these days, and rarely if ever allowed to free-range, than it’s maybe expected that there are hardly any actual abductions now. I’ve wondered the same thing as Heather.

    One piece of data that might be helpful is the trendline for kidnappings over time. Is there data on the yearly number of kidnappings going back to, say, the 70s? Have kidnappings always been low, or is this a recent phenomena that tracks the increase in helicopter parenting?

  3. RRaymond Brown says:

    Article in the NYT. Parents are not letting their kids go to sleep-overs or are having lateovers or a “mommy-and-me sleepover”. Why? Fear the parents have. When I was 9 I would have sleepovers at my neighbor’s house, it was no big deal for anyone, but how times (perceptions) have changed.–9X&smid=url-share

  4. AAviva Grasso says:

    Nope. The rates have gone down mostly because of policy changes that require bike helmets on kids, safer cars, and child safety seats, plus other initiatives that have lowered speed limits and redesigned streets to make crossing easier.

  5. CCary says:

    The statistics currently used include eighteen and nineteen-year-olds, who are adults, not children. When those are eliminated, the count drops significantly. Most of the deaths are accidental shootings, not intentional. Sure, those can all be prevented, and should be; however, you can pass all the gun laws of your dreams, but psychos, terrorists, and criminals are not going to obey them, and are going to keep on doing what they do. Taking guns away from law-abiding people, who were never going to shoot anyone, anyway, will accomplish nothing except to make criminals bolder in the knowledge that they’ll have no opposition if they want to shoot people.

  6. HHeather Wood says:

    My question is have these rates dropped so significantly since 1975 precisely because parents have become more cautious. I’m not arguing for more fear, just wondering how well the logic holds up.

  7. AAlexandra says:

    Unfortunately, the current leading cause of death for children is something that is far more preventable – firearms.