On Monday, I shared a scene from an early chapter in my novel, Persephone where Pirithous attempts to abduct Persephone from her mother’s flower shop. Kidnapping is one of a parent’s worst fears and missing children are one of the most sensationalized types of news stories in America. The constant media coverage and books and movies. It was also a pretty frequent plot point in children’s media for a huge chunk of my childhood. The constant coverage has likely contributed to the rise of helicopter parents and an entire generation of slightly paranoid children.
Seriously. Every friend I’ve asked about this said they had kidnapping “plan.” For me, it was small things that were mostly games. I’d see if I could untie knots or unlock doors in the event I was even kidnapped. Another friend grew up memorizing her location and major landmarks she passed in case she got a chance to use the phone to call 911. Everyone went through stranger danger planning and some extra lucky children like myself were told to avoid hallways in hotels when we were traveling because “a stranger could just pull you into a room and I’d never see you again, Katie.” Another friend was told she could never have a convertible, not because of price mind you, but because “someone could just hop in the car and take you away.”
What’s sad is how crazy that’s not. Everyone has a story like that. The fear of kidnapping was a constant presence in my generation’s childhood and one that is no doubt being passed along to our children.
It’s also incredibly unlikely. I included the threat of abduction in my book because, hello, Persephone. Both attempts are a plot point in her myth. But I did so with mixed feelings because I didn’t want to add to the hysteria.
Most abductions are committed by acquaintances and family and are found within hours of their abduction alive. Putting this in real numbers, out of 800,000 kids reported missing during the peak of the kidnapping hysteria in 1991, only 115 of them were kidnapped by strangers, and kidnapping stats are going down. The rest were committed by family and acquaintances and the vast majority of those children were found within hours alive.
Now those 115 kids did fall into the scary pattern of being mostly female, mostly grabbed outdoors or lured into cars and roughly twenty of those children didn’t survive the abduction, so yes, there was reason to fear and it’s not like acquaintance or family kidnapping is a good thing but the sheer amount of fear everyone had for an outcome less likely than getting struck by lightning is in itself pretty scary.