In the United States, most jurisdictions define kidnapping as the abduction or unlawful transportation of someone. Kidnapping can actually occur if someone transports a victim even to another room or home, if it is against their will. Kidnapping is usually done in the commission of another crime, such as robbery, extortion or rape.
Kidnapping crimes are often some of the most publicized. The Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Patty Hearst, and even Adam Walsh, whose father went on to create the television show America’s Most Wanted are some of the most famous examples. Most states have their own individual definitions and punishments when it comes to kidnapping; however, if the victim is taken across state lines, the crime falls within the federal government’s authority, and the FBI will usually investigate.
Kidnapping has become a much less successful crime in the modern era, for several reasons. First, the institution of the AMBER alert has helped state law enforcement become more cooperative, sharing information and forming a united effort in finding children who might be at risk after abduction. The AMBER alert enlists the public’s help as well, releasing the outfit the child was known to be in, and usually a description of a vehicle and license plate numbers. There have been several successfully resolved AMBER alerts. Technology and surveillance have also made it more difficult for kidnappers to be successful. Security cameras and cell phones create a digital trail, and kidnappers may find it more difficult to hold someone for ransom as it would be difficult to release the victim and obtain funds without being traced.
Finally, most jurisdictions make kidnapping a crime with serious sentences. Convictions usually carry long terms of imprisonment, and federal charges can be layered on top of state charges if the victim is carried across state lines.
Children are usually kidnapping victims – although only 2% of crimes committed against juveniles involve kidnapping. Most kidnapping victims are white females taken from their residence by either a current or former intimate partner. In 2010, the United States was ranked sixth in the world for kidnapping for ransom, following Colombia, Italy, Lebanon, Peru and the Philippines. In recent years, kidnapping for ransom has grown in the southeast United States, often attributed to the Mexican Drug War and the cartel.
Parental kidnapping is also a huge issue. Parents who do not have custody of their own children, or visitation as frequent as they would like often take the children by force, or very often fail to return the child at the end of their visitation period. Thousands of cases of parental kidnapping are registered each year. As of 2010, over 200,000 cases were reported that year. Indeed, parental kidnapping appears to be a much more frequent phenomenon than non-parental kidnappings. At first blush, this seems like good news. However, most parents are denied access to their children because of evidence of abuse or neglect, meaning the life of the child is in real danger in the event their non-custodial parent kidnaps them. Parental kidnapping can still be a crime, even though it involves family law elements.
There is a common misconception that a missing persons report cannot be filed unless that person has been gone for 24 hours. That should be a determination for the investigating body. Therefore, if you believe someone is in danger and you cannot reach them, you need to contact the police immediately.