Lies and scaremongering and propaganda

I bring you exhibit A, ladies and gentlemen, from this “fact sheet”:

Every year an estimated 800,000 children are reported missing, more than 105,000 in California alone. This equates to more than 2,000 children each day.

Um, I think the 800,000 figure might actually mean the total number of all missing persons: that is, to say, children, teens and adults. According to this article from a year ago, there are 750,000 MP cases added to the NCIC in an average year, with 627,911 in 2013.

A large proportion of those are abducted by non-family members under suspicious or unknown circumstances.

That sentence is designed to sound as scary as possible and doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. How much is “a large proportion” exactly? Give some numbers here. If a child is missing under unknown circumstances, how can you say they were abducted by a non-family member?

I’ve been immersed in this for well over ten years and well I know that almost all missing child cases are resolved within hours and abductions by strangers are very rare. And the missing child cases that go longer than a day are usually either runaways, or kids taken by non-custodial family members. Most Amber Alerts are issued for children who were taken by a relative, usually a parent, and in most of those cases the child is recovered unharmed.

To say that 2,000+ kids a day go missing and “a large proportion” are taken by non-family members is untrue. No. Just…no. But that’s what the “fact sheet” says. There’s no room for interpretation here.

If kids were in fact getting snatched by strangers off the street left and right, why have so few of us encountered this in our day-to-day lives? Why aren’t there thousands of school classrooms with children missing from the class?

A number of high-profile missing children cases within the last decade have brought to light the need to bring California’s laws and processes for missing person response and recovery in the 21st century.

Yes, there have been a number of high-profile missing children cases within the last decade. And you know why? It’s not because there are more missing children than before. It’s because those children get a lot more news coverage, and that coverage is spread over a much wider area than it once had been. It used to be, if a child was snatched off the street in Wichita, no one living in Miami would read about the case or see it on TV. Now, some cute little girl vanishes off the streets in San Francisco and within a day people living everywhere from Maine to Mexico have heard all about it. There are entire TV shows — I’m not going to name them — who use missing and murdered children as their bread and butter.

The result is quite a lot of fear. My generation may have been the last in America who was allowed to play outside alone. There have been in recent years a few infamous incidents where people called the police simply because a child was outside alone, even if it’s in their own front yard. Sometimes Child Protection Services gets involved. Not always, not often, but enough to make a parent worry. If I had children, I would never let them play outside alone — not from the fear of him or her being kidnapped, but from the fear of a police or CPS report being filed by some well-meaning person.

It used to be that children would frequently form valuable relationships with adults outside the family, like coaches, neighbors, pastors, that sort of thing. I know I had a few neighbors I talked to. Now there’s the fear, coming from parents scared for their children, and also from adults who don’t want an accusation to ruin their lives. I knew a woman who told me she would never let her sons (who were like ten, eleven years old) spend the night away from home, even with people she knew well and trusted, even with their own relatives, because she was afraid they would be abused.

I am not saying that publicizing missing child cases is a bad thing. Far from it. I run a database intended to publicize cases and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it would help. But there’s a line between publicity and propaganda.

I’m writing this because that “fact sheet” made me really angry. Think what you like.

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9 thoughts on “Lies and scaremongering and propaganda

  1. Mary Carney September 13, 2015 / 5:24 pm

    My idiot sister is convinced that scores of children are kidnapped from DisneyWorld every year and Disney is involved in some massive cover up. As if.

    • Lauren September 14, 2015 / 3:09 am

      I was helping a college student with an English essay earlier this year. The topic she chose to write about was Wal-Mart’s negative influence on America. She had a sentence stating “people go in but they don’t go out”. I asked her if she was referencing the long lines and she said “No, have you seen all of those pictures of kids when you walk in? Those are kids who got abducted in the store!” I told her that the missing children pictures in the posters did not go missing from Wal-Mart. She kept arguing with me so I told her to look at the dates on the posters and notice that some of these people went missing long before that particular Wal-Mart was built. She still kept insisting her parents told her about all these missing Wal-Mart kids and they knew what they were talking about 😦

      • Mion September 14, 2015 / 2:29 pm

        Ironically, Wal-Mart is actually the store that created Code Adam.

        I don’t like Wal-Mart for 100 different reasons, but inventing Code Adam is probably one of the best things that store ever did.

    • Meaghan September 21, 2015 / 3:07 pm

      As an example of how paranoid people have gotten: I once saw a forum where parents were discussing what freedoms they gave, or intended to give, their children while at the same time protecting their safety. Someone posted that they would never even let a kid ride the apartment building’s elevator without a parent, because a “quick-thinking pedophile” might take the three minutes to molest the child in a real hurry.

  2. whereaboutsstillunknown September 13, 2015 / 6:15 pm

    I agree that the statements you quoted are designed to incite fear, and I agree that they are not exactly correct. BUT, if the motive behind it is to get LE to take these cases more seriously, I can’t really be angry. I think everyone can agree that a large proportion of cold cases are on this excellent site because nobody took them seriously at the time. Personally I would much rather see that change even if it takes a bit of media spin to get there. Just my opinion.

    • Justin September 13, 2015 / 6:33 pm

      The cause of missing persons loses credibility when people make outlandish claims like that. I remember when anti-abortion group went to bury a bunch of aborted fetuses and they lied to a Marine Corps reserve group to get an honor guard by saying they were burying a veteran. I don’t care how righteous you believe your cause is, if you lie or misrepresent the facts to get publicity, then you negate most of the good you were trying to do when you are found out.

      • whereaboutsstillunknown September 14, 2015 / 7:53 pm

        I agree that it is not right and I certainly would not have written something like that myself, I’m just saying I can’t be angry – it’s a national news network so there will always be spin. If I saw an article saying how rare it is for missing children to actually be in danger so LE should focus their resources elsewhere, then I would be furious. Not saying I’m right, but it’s the way I feel.

  3. Lauren September 14, 2015 / 2:57 am

    Very confusing math in that article too. The 2009 stats they are quoting add up to 105,159 not 105,171. “349 abducted under suspicious circumstances”???? Wouldn’t those fall into the abduction by stranger or family member category if they knew it was an abduction? Very confusing also.

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