I read it again earlier this month- another article warning parents of the dangers of sex traffickers in Walmart. Reading this story made my entire body cringe- not because it can’t happen, but because it likely won’t. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. By all means, watch your little ones when you are at the store, attend your children in the restroom, and be aware of your surroundings whenever you are out and about.
But, please don’t do it out of fear, and please don’t assume that the person who is weirding you out in the crafting section is a trafficker- or, even a kidnapper. That’s just not how it works.
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “An estimated 105 children were victims of stereotypical kidnappings in 2011.” (most recent available statistics) Stereotypical kidnapping is defined as “abductions in which a slight acquaintance or stranger moves a child at least 20 feet or hold the child at least 1 hour, and in which the child is detained overnight, transported at least 50 miles, half for random, abducted with the intent to keep permanently or killed.” …i.e. taken by a stranger from Walmart who intends for you to never see or hear from your child again. To put this into perspective, this is .000142% of the child population in America who may be stereotypically kidnapped in the US in a given year. Of these 105 children who were stereotypically kidnapped in 2011, “victims were, most commonly, ages 12-17, girls, white, and living in situations other than with two biological parents or adoptive parents” (1).
Now, however small the number 105 may seem, in relation to the 74,000,000 children currently living in the United States, 105 is not “0”- and certainly the trauma is very real and very horrifying for each of those children and their families. So, why do I deem the Walmart stories cringeworthy?
Firstly, the Walmart stories encourage unnecessary fear and create an atmosphere of anxiety. Fear and anxiety don’t actually help us keep our children safe. They consume our thoughts, take over our bodies, and narrow our focus. I don’t know about you, but I think we’re just about full up on fear and anxiety in our society at the moment.
Secondly, what we focus on and pay attention to determines what we see- as well as what we miss. When we’re busy being concerned about what might happen with our children at the store, we may be overlooking - or even unintentionally engaging with - some other factors which puts them at greater risk for going missing or being exploited.
In 2017, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC’s) Missing Person and Unidentified Person Files, there were 464,324 entries for missing persons under the age of 18 (2). If only approximately 105 of these missing children are the result of stereotypical kidnappings, what happened to the other 464,219 kids? What does put children at risk for going missing or being trafficked? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports their most frequently reported cases involve runaways; family abductions; and lost, injured, or otherwise missing children (3). In future blog posts, we will explore all of this further. (Spoiler alert: "One in seven endangered runaways reported to NCMEC in 2017 were likely sex trafficking victims" (4).) I do hope you will “stay tuned.”