Infant Abductions: Down in Hospitals, Up in Homes
The good news: The number of babies abducted from hospitals has dropped dramatically since 1983.
The bad: That decline has been matched by an alarming increase in the number of babies abducted from private homes and public places.
An eye-opening report in the September issue of The American Journal of Nursing looked at trends in non-family infant abduction over 23 years, from 1983 to 2006. Reviewing data from two studies, one covering 1983-1992, the other 1993-2006, researchers led by Ann Wolbert Burgess, a professor in the department of psychiatry nursing at the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College, found that the overall number of abductions of children under 6 months remained pretty steady over the two time periods, with 121 cases in the earlier and 126 in the later. (Here's a link; you have to pay to click through and actually read the whole study.)
But the study, conducted in partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, found that abductions from hospitals and other health-care facilities dropped from 63 percent of all cases to 32 percent, while abductions from private residences rose from 29 percent to 49 percent of cases and those from public places rose from 3 percent to 9 percent.
Burgess and her colleagues also found a rise in instances in which abductions involved injury (including fatalities) to parents -- including forced caesarians -- and a rise (from 69 percent to 89 percent) in the proportion of abductors who had visited the abduction site before committing their crime.
Bright spots: Altogether, 95 percent of all the abducted babies were found. And more abductors are getting caught and indicted. Arrests were made in 88 percent of cases and indictments in 87 percent in the first period; those numbers both jumped to 94 percent in the later period.
Burgess attributes the decline in abductions from hospitals to stiffer security measures put in place following the release of information from the study that ended in 1992. That study included a profile of the typical abductor, which helped hospitals focus their security efforts.
The new study also proffers a profile, finding that in recent years a typical abductor has been:
- a woman between 12 (!) and 50 years
- overweight (perhaps making it easier to fake a pregnancy)
- able to use manipulation and deceit to get access to the baby
- familiar with the community where the abduction occurs
- able to provide good care for the baby she's snatched
- likely to have visited maternity wards to scope out the joint
- likely to have planned the abduction but not necessarily to have focused on a particular baby, leaving herself open to seize any opportunity that comes along
- likely to have impersonated a nurse or other health-care worker; this includes both those abducting from hospitals and those abducting from homes.
The study calls for heightened awareness among nurses and other health-care staff and the media, who can be enormously helpful in recovering stolen children. Expectant parents, the authors suggest, should verse themselves in their hospitals' security protocols and be on the lookout for strangers hanging around, showing excessive interest in their baby, or showing up at their homes unannounced.
Thankfully, abduction of infants remains rare. But just one is too many; it's hard to fathom the horror.
I remember taking my little girl to Cabin John Park one summer day when she was about five -- not a baby, but still my baby -- and losing sight of her. The panic that welled up in me nearly choked me. Of course, she was safe, and all was well. But that scare served as a reminder that you just can't ever let down your guard when it comes to keeping your kids safe.
How about you? Have you had a similar scare? Does this report make you think twice about strangers and your baby?
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