The loss of a child must be the most heartbreaking experience for any parent. When this loss occurs at the hands of another human being, it's even more tragic. The Polly Klaas Foundation was started in response to one child's abduction and murder in hopes of preventing this fate for other children whether they are taken by strangers or by family members.
On October 1, 1993, twelve-year-old Polly Klaas was abducted from her home in Petaluma, California. A man wielding a knife intruded on her slumber party, tied her friends up and took her out of the house. Her abductor turned out to be convicted criminal Richard Allen Davis. In fact, at the time of the abduction, he was in violation of his parole. Davis was later caught, confessed and led the police to Polly's body.
What was so special about this one child? Aren't there many more children abducted every year? Besides the boldness of the abductor, what made the Klaas case standout was the emerging technology of the internet and digital imaging which at the time was coming into its own as a new technological force to be reckoned with. We may take these things for granted now, but in 1993, they were cutting edge. The immense international outpouring of support can be partly contributed to how quickly the information spread about this crime. The Foundation refers to her as the "world's first internet child."
Family Member Child Abduction Statistics
According to a study released in 2002 from the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children, an estimated 200,000 children were abducted by family members in the US over a 1-year period. Family child abduction statistics can be difficult to pin down because of how the term "missing" is used. A child who isn't returned on time from a visit with a parent might be reported as missing.
While some people may dismiss this is merely a custodial battle that doesn't involve abuse, we can't put every family abduction case in this category. Family members may take the children to protect them from what they believe is an unsafe situation. But others may not have such altruistic motives. They may be abusers themselves or one parent using the child as leverage against the other parent or even a troubled distant relative.
Child Safety Kit
The Foundation offers a free child safety kit online at their website linked here. This kit includes a 24-page booklet with advice on how to talk to children in different age groups about dangerous situations without scaring them as well as information on obtaining a fingerprint record and DNA sampling of your child. While no one likes to imagine the worst scenarios for their children, taking the steps presented in this kit may help recover missing kids and prevent other parents from experiencing the nightmare that Polly's family did.
National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children. U.S. Department of Justice, October 2002.
Noe, Denise. Where is Polly? The Killing of Polly Klaas (pg. 3). Accessed July 2010.
Polly's Story. Polly Klaas Foundation website. Accessed July 2010.