If you’ve watched America’s Most Wanted, or more recently, In Pursuit with John Walsh, chances are you’ve heard me talking about keeping your child safe from stranger abductions. But today, I want to talk to you about another type of abduction, one that’s far more common, but can be just as damaging and dangerous for a child.
I'm talking about family abductions—which were reported 20 times more often to us here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) than non-family abductions over the last year. In fact, family abductions are the second-most common type of missing child reported overall to NCMEC.
You might think that this type of abduction is less serious because, “At least they’re with their mom or dad...” but that’s often not the case. Decades of research show the serious and harmful effects that family abductions can have on child victims.
Children abducted by a parent are often told lies to justify abruptly leaving home. After they’ve left the state or the country, they often remain isolated out of fear of being noticed or getting caught. Many times, they are kept out of school, away from parks and neighbors, and without any contact with friends or family members.
They’ll often be told lies about their other parent.
“Your mother is dangerous…”
“Your father doesn’t love you…”
“Your mother is dead…”
Trusting their parents, these lies become new realities for these young children.
We hear those lies so often in family abduction cases we call them the “3 D’s”: Dead, Disinterested, or Dangerous.
Imagine being nine and being told your father was dead by your mother—the person you’ve trusted your whole life—or that your mother doesn’t love you by your father—and you have no choice but to believe him. News like this is traumatizing on its own even when it’s true—but being told these things frantically, on the run, repeatedly, only to find out they were lies—that would impair anyone’s ability to trust or rely on anyone again.
The longer the child is kept in this warped reality—the harder it is on them when they are told the truth.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen cases where the child is isolated like this for many years and the psychological impact is exactly what you’d expect. I’ve listened to the victims of family abductions tell their stories, and it upsets me to hear them say “I didn’t trust anyone when I came back, it’s very hard for me to form relationships now.”
In fact, as with all missing child cases, the longer they’re away from home, the more dangerous and damaging the experience is. Sadly, of the 45,305 family abduction cases that NCMEC has worked on to date, 98 children have been located deceased. This is why I’m asking you for your support. Please consider committing to monthly donation—at any level—to help bring missing children home quickly and safely today.
At NCMEC we take family abductions just as seriously as we take stranger abductions. We know that children abducted by a parent are in real danger of physical, sexual, emotional abuse—and unfortunately, even death. We work day and night to provide the custodial parent of these children with the resources they need to help bring them home.
Once they’re found, reunification can be a difficult process, but fortunately, children are resilient—and we’re here to help. Take a look at the story of Ed Mena, a close friend of NCMEC and the father of three boys who are now safe in his custody after their mother illegally took two of them to Mexico for one year.
At NCMEC, we work with parents like Ed every day to help them find their missing children and to provide technical legal assistance—especially in complicated international cases. Finally, we support them emotionally through our network of mental health professionals and our Team HOPE which is made up of parents/guardians who have directly experienced having a missing or exploited child of their own.
Currently, we have over 1,600 children actively missing because of family abduction.
This Father’s Day please join us in helping reunite families like Ed’s through a recurring donation to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Stay safe and healthy this summer and thank you for supporting this critical work through your gifts and by sharing missing child posters on social media.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children