Saturday, February 03, 2007

Child Abduction: Speaking Out On The Stockholm Syndrome

Dr. Howard Rosenthal

In August 1973 a strange incident in Stockholm Sweden shocked the social science community. Bank robbers held a group of bank employees hostage for six days. Ironically, when the culprits were caught the victims defended their captors! This phenomenon has been dubbed “The Stockholm Syndrome” and it often seems to be evident in cases of child abduction.

Why does it occur? Nobody knows for sure and most experts agree that there are a number of plausible explanations. One notion is that bonding with the enemy is a survival tactic. Simply put: it keeps the victim alive. Another theory is that the person or persons responsible for the abduction sometimes show their victims kindness and this leads to warm feelings.

Recently local and national attention has focused on the cases of Ben Owenby and Shawn Hornbeck with the latter being investigated as a possible example of the Stockholm Syndrome since it is possible that Shawn had chances to escape, but did not. Let me be as forthright as possible and mention that I have virtually no knowledge regarding the specifics of either case. All I know is what I have assimilated from the media. In fact, if you are a media junkie then you have my word you know more than I do.

I can, nevertheless, share some helpful general information with you about child abductions. First, approximately 2/3 of the children who are abducted are Caucasian females from middle-class families. Most are likely to be in their teen years and you’ll sleep easier knowing that most abductions do not occur on the grounds of the child’s school.

Statistically speaking, most kids are taken by somebody they are familiar with such as a parent. Only 25% of the cases involve a stranger.

Overprotective parents wrongly assume that keeping the child close to home ensures safety. Not so! Nearly 1/3 of all abducted children were snatched within 200 feet of their own home. If we pump the distance up just a hairline to a quarter mile, then we cover over 50% of all situations of this nature!

Believe it or not (and contrary to what we see at the movies) studies seem to indicate that the children are not picked for their physical characteristics in the majority of cases. Physical traits enter into the equation in just 15% of all cases. Instead, the children are chosen based on the opportunity to abduct them.

Statisticians believe that only one child dies for every 10,000 reports of a missing child. The key to stopping these tragedies is lightning fast reporting. According to a major study about 75% of the children who died were dead within three hours of the abduction.

So just what are these abductors like when they are not members of the family? Generally, they are males (except for infant abductors who are female) in the 25 to 27 year old range. They live alone or with their parents. In most cases they are single. Most are unemployed are in semi-skilled occupations.

Unfortunately, child kidnapping — or keeping a child as if he or she is your own child — is not a new phenomenon. You might recall the Lindbergh Baby (toddler of the world legendary pilot Charles Lindbergh) was one of the top news stories of the 20th Century. Sadly, the child was found dead in 1932.

Again, the key – when it exists – is to take action and contact your local law enforcement as fast as possible.

Dr. Howard Rosenthal is a multi-book author in the field of counseling. His website is