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Victims Of Abduction: Current Data and Methods for Prevention

Women and girls make up 76% of reported kidnapping victims. As a women's self defense program we are completely focused on the threats faced by women and girls. In this post we will explore the data on abduction from two critical reports:

  1. Data on victims of abduction over a 10 year period from the FBI Crime Reporting System

  2. Data on attempted abductions of children from a 10 year study by the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children

We'll start by sharing key findings from each study and finish with discussing how we can use this information to become better protectors of ourselves and our family.

Data on Victims of Abduction from the FBI

According to crime data reported to the FBI from 2011-2021:

*Note: The data represents reported crime, and is not an exhaustive report of all crime that occurs. The report states that this data, from 11,794 law enforcement agencies represents 69% of the total population.


  • Of the total 36,935 kidnaping victims, 76% were female and 23% were male

  • Of the 36,593 offenders, 81% were male and17% were female


  • Personal weapons (hands and feet) were used in 48% of cases

  • No weapons were used in 26% of cases

  • Handguns were used in 8% of cases

  • Knives were used in 5% of cases

Location Type

  • The top location was a residence/home (65%), followed by a highway/alley/street/sidewalk (13%), then a hotel/motel (5%)

Relationship to Offender

  • 75% of offenders were non-strangers,11% were strangers

Data on Attempted Child Abductions from NCMEC

The following analyses were based on a ten year study of 8,015 unique incidents committed by individuals unknown to the children. Since the study is based on attempted abductions, the researchers were able to collect very helpful information about offender methods, time and location of attacks, and what victims did to get away.


  • Of the 9,872 victims, 67% were female and 21% were male (12% unknown).

  • Male children had a younger average age (10yrs) compared to female children (12yrs).

  • Of the 9,027 offenders, 96% were male and 3% were female

Location Type

  • 70% of incidents occurred on school days, most commonly before school (7-9am), after school (3-4pm) and then again after dinner time (6-7pm)

  • the street was by far the most common incident location (62%), followed by: outside the children’s house (7%), bus stop (5%), park or playground (5%), outside their school (4%), inside their residences (3%)


  • Offenders primarily used forceful methods against before school age and high school age children

  • Offenders primarily used verbal ploys against elementary and middle school-age children

Verbal ploys included:

  • impersonating someone, such as a trusted family friend/acquaintance, medical professional/patient, social worker or police officer

  • making directives and demands for the child to come with them or get in their vehicle

  • offering a ride

  • offering food, candy or drinks

  • asking children to help locate or see something/someone, often an animal or their own child

  • asking for directions

  • giving compliments

  • engaging in conversation

How Children Got Away

  • "When verbal methods were used, children were most likely to get away by ignoring or refusing the offender, using their cell phones to threaten possible adult intervention and/or by actual adult intervention. Ultimately, offenders either left the area or children left the area."

  • "When forceful methods were used, children most commonly got away from offenders by fighting, screaming/making noise and/or by adult intervention. Ultimately, either offenders or children left the area or offenders voluntarily released the children."

  • "One child behavior that helped increase the chances of adult intervention was screaming/making noise. When children screamed/made noise, adults were more likely to notice and take action (22%) compared to when children did not scream/make noise (16%)" (NCMEC).

Preventing Abduction: What The Data Tells Us About Self Defense Strategy

1. Awareness and avoidance are our #1 line of defense

The fact that 74% of abductors were unarmed and 26% occurred without physical force demonstrates the power of non-physical strategies. Lures trick you into getting close to the criminal so an attack is easy. Ted Bundy lured women to the open trunk of his car and then pushed them in. Jeff Dahmer lured men to his apartment and only attacked after they were already drugged.

Lures reduce risk to a level the attacker is willing to take. Deterrence is about being too risky to attack. Prevention is never putting yourself or your kids in a position where an attacker feels like the risk is worth taking.

Girls Who Fight Safety Rule: Never approach a car, and teach your children to never approach a car. Most abductions in the NCMEC study involved a suspect driving a vehicle. [CASE] Singer Jordan Rainer shares her chilling story of how she responded when a car pulled over in front of her while walking on a secluded road].

Girls Who Fight Safety Rule: Respond from a distance. Just because someone talks to you doesn't mean they have the right to get close to you. Just because you answer a question doesn't mean you have to get close to them.

Girls Who Fight Safety Rule: Trust your gut. If you feel threatened, run and make noise. Running in the opposite direction the car is facing will give you a head start. The worst that can happen if you're wrong? Making that person think twice before getting too close to a woman who's alone. Far better than the worst that could happen if you're right.

2. When Strangers abduct, the street is the most common location

The NCMEC data only included children targeted by strangers. It showed that 62% of these attempted child abductions happened on the street, most commonly during the child's walk to or from school. Abductors look for where they can access the victim with the least amount of risk. It makes sense that the place that a stranger has the most private access to a child is on their walk to/from school, one of the only times they're without parents or teachers. The next most common location was outside the child's house while they were playing, hanging out, or doing chores.

[Case] Athena Strand was abducted and killed earlier this year by a Fed Ex driver while playing in her front lawn, which the Sheriff called a "crime of opportunity".

According to a study based on 600 cases of child abduction murder by the Washing State Attorney General's Office, more than half of abductions took place within three blocks of the victim’s home, and one-third of abductions occurred within one-half block of the victim’s home.

GIRLS WHO FIGHT SAFTY RULE: You're most safe when you're around other people. Try to walk with a friend, arrange for your kids walk home with a buddy or group, and be extra alert when walking alone.

KIDS SAFETY TIP: Make sure your child is supervised, even when playing in the front/backyard or on a neighbourhood street. Predators are opportunistic and they don't need a very big window of opportunity to succeed.

3. When non-strangers abduct, the home is the most common location

Inversely, the FBI data which includes all victim/offender relationships show that 65% of incident locations happened at a residence, followed by the street (13%). The place that a family member/friend has the most private access to a child is at their home. And the victim that a predator has the most access to is one they already know. 51% of offenders were either an intimate partner or family member:

- Boyfriend/Girlfriend (27%)

- Child (8%)

- Spouse (7%)

- Ex Spouse (4%)

- Other Family Member (2%)

- Parent (2%)

- Child of Boyfriend/Girlfriend (1%)

The FBI also did an even more specific study on residential child abduction cases by a nonparental offender. 59% of victims knew the offender before the crime. Over half of the offenders knew the residence, some had been inside the home or previously stayed or lived there. Also, 63% were killed by the offender, with the most common causes of death being asphyxiation (45%) and blunt-force injury (30%).

People have a hard time imagining that someone in their family or social circle would be the one to abuse them or their child, but statistically these are the most likely culprits, and it's most likely to happen at a residence.

KIDS SAFETY TIP: Tell your kids that no one is allowed to touch them inappropriately or ask them to keep a secret, and to tell you right away if anyone does. Make sure they know they won't get in trouble for telling you.

KIDS SAFETY TIP: Tell your kids that they always need permission from you before going anywhere with anyone, no matter who the person is.

KIDS SAFETY TIP: Tell your kids that if someone approaches them when they're outside playing, no matter what they say, to run inside and tell you immediately.

WOMEN'S SAFETY TIP: Pay attention to the surroundings of your house when walking in. A common method of home invaders is to wait for you to open the door and then push you in with them. Another common method is simply knocking at the door pretending to be friendly. Don't open the door unless you're sure it's safe enough to do so.

For more information and tips about family abduction, click here.

4. Active Resistance is The Best Defense to an Abduction

NCMEC states "83% of children who escaped their would-be abductors did something proactive. They walked/ran away, yelled, kicked, or pulled away. This means the best thing a child can do if someone tries to abduct them is take action instead of being passive or polite."

GIRLS WHO FIGHT SAFETY RULE: Delay. Yell. Fight Back. Those are the three steps to respond to an abduction. Delay it as long as possible by running, resisting, using obstacles, anything you can do to outlast their opportunity window. Yell as loud as you can and do not stop. Alert others and make the attacker fear getting caught. Fight back with everything you have right there in public while your chances of escape are the highest.

Conclusion: Know when you or your child is most vulnerable

Data is very useful for generalizations but what matters most in your prevention strategy is considering where you're most at risk as an individual. Ask yourself "where and when am I/my child most vulnerable?" Where do you go regularly that an abductor could access you with no-to-low risk? It could be your daily jog through the park, walk to the bus stop, or walk to your car in the underground parking garage.

When is your child most accessible to adults without your or other adult supervision? This could likely be their walk to school, or if they're homeschooled it could be when they bike around the neighbourhood, when they're home alone, etc. Take the data into account but make your strategy personal by considering the specific places you go and the common sense safety measures you can take to be too risky to attack.


Federal Bureau of Investigation Crime Data Explorer, adjusted for Abductions/Kidnappings over the last 10 years

A 10-Year Analysis of Attempted Abductions and Related Incidents , National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children

"Residential Child Abduction Cases" By Joy Shelton, Mark Hilts, M.S., and Mark MacKizer, M.S.

"Child Abduction Murder Research" , The Criminal Division of the Washington State Attorney General's Office


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Written by Gemma Sheehan, founder of

Girls Who Fight.

Our mission is to help women and girls lead safe and confident lives. Learn about our programs >

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