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Parental Abduction: A Review of the Literature

NCJ Number
Janet Chiancone
Date Published
December 2001
13 pages
This literature review explores the prevalence of parental abduction, the characteristics of offenders and victims, and the effect of this crime on children and parents.
Parental abduction is defined as the taking and concealment of a child by a parent, other family member, or their agent in violation of the rights of the other parent or other family member. According to research by the National Incidence Studies on Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children in America (NISMART) conducted in 1988, there are an estimated 354,100 cases of parental abduction in any given year. Research also indicates that abductors tend to be in their 30s and abducted children are typically between the ages of 3 to 5 years. High rates of cross-cultural or international marriages have been discovered among parental abduction cases. Motivations to abduct, as well as risk factors for abduction, are identified followed by a discussion of the psychological impact of abduction. Research on the criminal justice system’s response to parental abductions is reviewed, including the law enforcement agency response and obstacles to handling parental abduction cases, such as verifying custody orders and clarifying law enforcement roles in other jurisdictions. Overall, the research on parental abductions indicates that this type of crime can be traumatic for both children and left-behind parents and that the longer the separation continues the more damaging the experience becomes. Endnotes, references