American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 30–44

Secondary Victimizations in Missing Child Events

Authors

    • Department of Justice StudiesJames Madison University
Article

DOI: 10.1007/s12103-007-9008-9

Cite this article as:
Plass, P.S. Am J Crim Just (2007) 32: 30. doi:10.1007/s12103-007-9008-9

Abstract

This paper examines the incidence and nature of secondary victimizations (attempted and completed physical assault, sexual assault, and robbery) in a population of missing children (nonfamily abducted, family abducted, runaway/thrownaway, general/benign missing). Using data from the NISMART-2 studies, the following questions are addressed: How much secondary criminal victimization of children occurs in the context of missing children events, and what is the nature of this victimization? Are some categories/ types of missing children event more likely to result in secondary victimization than others? Is the risk for secondary victimization greater for some missing children than others (e.g., are age or race factors)? Are the outcomes of missing child events which include secondary victimizations different in significant ways from those which do not (more likely to be associated with harm for children or more likely to involve public resources like law enforcement)?

Keywords

Missing childrenVictimizationViolent crime

Introduction

Recent research and scholarship has drawn considerable attention to the problem of missing children in the United States. Many of these events-e.g., abductions of children-are in and of themselves examples of criminal victimization. It is likewise clear that many “missing children” events are associated in predictable ways with other forms of criminal victimization. For example, research has shown that the incidence of sexual assault in the context of non-family abductions is very high-nearly half of all victims of non-family abduction are also sexually assaulted in the context of the event (Finkelhor et al. 2002). The spectrum of “missing children” events is quite broad, ranging from very small children who are abducted by family members, to older children abducted by strangers, to teenagers who voluntarily leave home (usually to “escape” rancor of some sort), to children who are just “misplaced” for periods of time (e.g., lost in a store, inexplicably late arriving home from school and the like). Obviously, all of these episodes, while forming a coherent category of event, are quite different from one another. Regardless of the reason/context for being missing, these events undeniably put children at risk for other forms of victimization, and bring them into contact with other dangers. Sometimes these other forms of victimization may be the motivation for the “missing” event itself (e.g., sexual assault in the case of non-family abduction). In other instances, the secondary victimization might be seen as a by-product of the missing event (e.g., a runaway who is robbed by a stranger). The relationship between various forms of “missing” status and other kinds of criminal victimization clearly exists, but has not been well examined or articulated. This paper seeks to address this issue, by examining the incidence of physical assault, sexual assault, and robbery which occur in the context of various categories of missing child events.

Review of Literature

While substantial research has been done both in the area of the victimization of children generally and that of the missing children problem specifically, the literature is relatively quiet with regard to the intersection of these phenomena. It is possible, however, to draw upon the findings in these two related areas in order to frame the questions and hypothesize some answers about situations in which they intersect (i.e., missing child events which involve other forms of criminal victimization as well).

There is basis both in theory and in existing literature to expect that the incidence of criminal victimization would be great in the context of any missing child event. First, the dominant theories of victimization, Routine Activities and Lifestyles Theory, both predict that involvement in risky activities or lifestyles is a factor likely to be associated with an increased risk of criminal victimization (Cohen and Felson 1979; Hindelang et al. 1978). Routine activities theory specifically holds that the likelihood of victimization is related to three factors-exposure to a motivated offender, being perceived as an appropriate victim, and the absence of guardians. Even in missing child events which are not in and of themselves victimizations (e.g., “benign missing” situations in which a child becomes lost in a store), the child in question is still engaged in an “activity” (i.e., being missing, or out of the supervision or protection of a caretaker or other responsible adults) which might increase risk for victimization more generally.

There is, in fact, empirical evidence that this is the case. The link between non-family sexual assault of children and non-family abductions, for example, is well established. (Asidigian et al. 1995; Erikson and Friendship 2002; Finkelhor et al. 2002). Likewise, research on serious runaway events has found that these (often “homeless”) children are at risk for sexual exploitation and other forms of victimization as well. (Cauce et al. 2004). The incidence of secondary victimization in other forms of missing child events, however, is much less well documented. Nor does the existent research in this area adequately address the questions of variations in the risk factors for victimization specifically among the population of children who are involved in a missing event. It is these questions which are of primary interest in this paper.

Certainly one such factor affecting the variation in likelihood of secondary victimization among the population of missing children is likely to be the form (or type) of missing child event, i.e., it is likely that some kinds of missing events are more risky than others. First, those which are in and of themselves criminal events, especially non-family abductions, are almost certain to be motivated by the desire to perpetrate another crime (e.g., physical, or more likely sexual, assault). Running away from home, almost by definition, places a child in an unprotected and risky situation in which the likelihood of encountering a motivated offender must be greatly increased. Some “general missing” events (those in which a child fails to return home at the expected time, for example) may actually be caused by a secondary victimization (a child assaulted on the way home from school by a bully, for example). Conversely, events such as family abductions, in which children are at least in the presence of a known caretaker, should be expected to be relatively less likely to entail secondary victimizations. Family based victimizations however, such as sexual or physical abuse, may well be greater in this seemingly more benign context.

Characteristics of individual children (e.g., age, gender, social class, area of residence, etc.) vary in predictable ways across both categories of criminal victimization and of missing events. The characteristics which might predict victimization generally, however, may have a different effect on the likelihood of such victimization specifically in the context of a missing event. Likewise the standard factors which have been found to be related to risk of a missing child event may not be relevant in predicting risk for secondary victimization within that event. Thus, a more systematic examination of these factors is likely a fruitful pursuit.

Age is clearly related to both victimization generally and to being a missing child specifically. Young children are at higher risk for family related crimes (e.g., physical abuse) while older children have higher risk of assaults outside of the family (often at the hands of peers) (Finkelhor and Hashima 2001). In missing child events a similar (or at least related) pattern appears. While there are certainly a significant minority of very young children and infants who are victims of sometimes violent non-family abductions (see, for example, Baker et al. 2002), younger children are the most likely victims of family abductions. Older children are more likely to experience runaway events and non-family abductions (Finkelhor et al. 2002; Hammer et al. 2002; Plass et al. 1997). Both of these patterns would tend to indicate that older missing children should generally be at greater risk for secondary victimization than younger ones. They are, as stated above, likely to be involved in the (perhaps) more inherently risky missing events-non-family abductions and runaways. They are also more likely to be in the possession of items which might motivate a robbery or a robbery attempt than are younger children. Alternatively, older children who are involved in a missing event, because of their greater size and cognitive development, might well be more able to defend themselves from a secondary victimization in that context, or might appear as less appealing targets for these same reasons. Thus, examination of data is required to conclusively answer this question.

With regard to gender, boys are generally more likely to experience criminal victimizations than are girls (with the notable exception of sexual assault), although some empirical studies have found these differences to be more modest among younger children (Catalano 2006; Finkelhor and Hashima 2001; Rennison 2000; Snyder 2000). Boys have been found to be slightly more likely to experience missing child events (although the differences here are more modest than those between forms of violent victimizations among children generally) (Finkelhor et al. 2002). Because of this, one could predict that boys would be more likely to experience secondary victimization in missing children events as well. This finding is far from certain, though. Girls, for example, have been found to have a higher likelihood of experiencing several forms of missing event, notably running away (Sanchez et al. 2006), and non-family abductions (which, as argued above, might well be the most dangerous of the missing events) (Finkelhor and Ormrod 2000). Other research, however, has found that the proportion of runaways who are male and female is more or less equal (Hammer et al. 2002). Thus, based on existing literature, it is difficult to predict with certainty the relationship between gender and secondary victimization for missing children.

Area of residence may also be related-for example, it is likely that children who have a missing event in more urban areas will be at higher risk for a secondary victimization, simply because urban environments provide more opportunities for crime generally (Catalano 2006; Rennison 2000; Snyder and Sickmund 2006; Weisheit and Donnermeyer 2000). There is some empirical evidence, however, which suggests that rural youth might be at higher risk for victimizations. For example, in a study of rural and urban runaways who came from abusive homes, Thrane et al. (2006) found that rural runaways were more likely to use deviant survival strategies than were urban runaways. Thus, again, it is difficult to predict the impact of area of residence based solely on existing literature.

Economic status of the family may well be related as well. While there are conflicting patterns with regard to the impact of SES on risk for various types of missing events (Plass et al. 1997; Snyder and Sickmund 2006), it is likely that poverty would make a child who experiences any type of missing event more likely to have an associated secondary victimization. This is the pattern which exists in crime generally-i.e., the poor have higher rates of victimization than do the non-poor (Catalano 2006), and there is little reason to expect that this trend would not hold true for missing children as well.

The relationship between secondary victimization and outcome measures for missing children events is likely the most significant of the questions posed in this paper.

Given the logical assumption (supported by research-e.g., Finkelhor et al. 1990; Plass et al. 1996; Snyder and Sickmund 2006) that any missing child event may be likely to be associated with harm to children and with the invocation of public resources such as law enforcement, it is quite important to understand the extent to which secondary victimization within a given missing child event might be related to these outcomes. Such secondary victimization would inevitably increase the level of alarm that parents or children had about an event that might already be considered to warrant the intervention of the police. In addition, other research has shown that children who experience multiple victimizations (in any context) are more likely to be emotionally harmed by these events. (Classen et al. 2005; Finkelhor et al. 2005). Thus it would appear logical to expect that a secondary victimization in the context of a missing event might greatly increase the negative impact of the experience on children involved.

Methods

Data used in this analysis are taken from the household interview portion of the second National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children. NISMART-2 was designed as a tool to estimate the incidence of missing children events in the United States (both those reported to the police or other authorities and those which are unreported). In 1999, interviews were conducted with a national probability sample of American households. The bulk of the data collected in NISMART-2 (the first NISMART study was done in 1988) come from the Household Survey of Adult Caretakers and Youth. Additional work was done, however, to secure information about missing child events from other sources such as police records (the Law Enforcement Study) and juvenile institutions (the Juvenile Facilities Study). The data used in this paper are taken solely from the household survey. Ultimately, 16,111 parents (or other adult caretakers) were interviewed regarding the missing child related experiences of 31,787 children (with a response rate of 80% among eligible households). In a subset of households, interviews were also conducted with a randomly selected child (between the ages of 10 and 18). Thus, data were also collected from 5,015 interviews with children and youth as well.

The NISMART-2 interview was structured to screen all respondents for the occurrence of any missing child events. If a parent (or in the case of interviews with children, the child) reported a potentially qualifying event in the previous year, an extensive interview was conducted in order to gather information on the details of the event, including such things as the occurrence of a secondary criminal victimization in the context of the missing event. The resulting data are the subject of the analysis below.

Defining Missing Events

The cases included in this analysis are the children who had a qualifying missing child event in one of five categories. NISMART-2 definitions of these categories follow (Hammer and Barr 2007; Sedlak et al. 2002):

Non-family Abduction

an abduction perpetrated by a person who is not a member of the child’s family who takes a child by the use of physical force or threat of bodily harm or detains a child for at least 1 hour in an isolated place by the use of physical force or threat of bodily harm without lawful authority or parental permission; or an abduction where a child who is under the age of 15 or is mentally incompetent, without lawful authority or parental permission, is taken or detained or voluntarily accompanies a nonfamily perpetrator who conceals the child’s whereabouts, demands ransom, or expresses the intention to keep the child permanently.

There were also 4 cases of “stereotypical kidnapping” (Nonfamily Abduction perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance in which the child is detained overnight, killed, transported at least 50 miles, held for ransom, or abducted with intent to keep the child permanently) uncovered in the household interview. These “stereotypical abduction cases” are not included in this analysis for 2 reasons. First, they comprise a distinct category of event in the NISMART methodologies (more of such cases were uncovered in the Law Enforcement Study) and are thus not comparable with the other nonfamily abductions in this analysis. Second, there were too few cases (only 4) to comprise a viable sub-category. Hence, the nonfamily abductions included in this analysis do not include events which were defined as stereotypical abductions. Other forms of missing child event included:

Family Abduction

in violation of a custody order, a decree, or other legitimate custodial rights, a member of the child’s family, or someone acting on behalf of a family member, takes or fails to return a child, and the child is concealed or transported out of State with the intent to prevent contact or deprive the caretaker of custodial rights indefinitely or permanently. (For a child 15 or older, unless mentally incompetent, there must be evidence that the perpetrator used physical force or threat of bodily harm to take or detain the child).

Runaway/Thrownaway

is a child who experienced a countable Runaway or Thrownaway incident. A Runaway incident occurs when a child leaves home without permission and stays away overnight; or a child 14 years old or younger is away and chooses not to come home when supposed to and stays away overnight; or a child 15 years old or older (unless mentally incompetent) is away and chooses not to come home and stays away two nights. A Thrownaway incident occurs when a child is asked or told to leave home by a parent or other household adult, no adequate alternative care is arranged for the child by a household adult, and the child is out of the household overnight; or a child is away and a parent or other household adult opposes the child’s return, no adequate alternative care is arranged for the child by a household adult, and the child is out of the household overnight.

Involuntary Missing, Lost or Injured

when a child’s whereabouts are unknown to the child’s caretaker and this causes the caretaker to be alarmed for at least 1 hour and try to locate the child, under one of two conditions: (a) the child was trying to get home or make contact with the caretaker but was unable to do so because the child was lost, stranded, or injured; or (b) the child was too young to know how to return home or make contact with the caretaker.

Missing, Benign Explanation

when a child’s whereabouts are unknown to the child’s caretaker and this causes the caretaker to (a) be alarmed, (b) try to locate the child, and (c) contact the police about the episode for any reason, as long as the child was not lost, injured, abducted, harmed, or classified as Runaway/Thrownaway.

There were a total of 585 such cases which met these criteria garnered from the household survey, and these comprise the missing child episodes analyzed in this paper. These data are weighted in the analyses which follow to reflect the Census estimates of populations of children aged 18 and younger. (For further comment or information regarding the methodology of the NISMART-2 study, see Sedlak et al. 2002; Hammer and Barr 2007).

Defining Secondary Victimizations

Secondary victimizations are defined here as one of three separate experiences reported in the context of a missing child event. Specifically, was the child physically assaulted, or was there an attempt at physical assault? Was the child sexually assaulted, or was there an attempt at sexual assault? Was the child robbed or was there an attempt at robbery? As stated above, some of the NISMART-2 interviews were conducted with both parents and children. A missing child event could be classified as involving a secondary victimization if either the parent or the child reported such an element in the event.

The wording of the questions eliciting information regarding these secondary victimizations is not as detailed as those used, for example, in the NCVS, and this may be considered a weakness in the methodology of this anlaysis. Given the exploratory nature of this work, however, they clearly provide valid indicators of the concepts. The specific wording used (in both the adult and the youth interviews) to operationalize these concepts is as follows (Hammer and Barr 2007):

Physical assault

To the best of your knowledge

Adult Interview: During this episode was [child] hit, punched, beaten up, hit with an object, or otherwise physically abused?

Youth Interview: During this episode were you hit, punched, beaten up, hit with an object, or otherwise physically abused?

Attempted Physical Assault

To the best of your knowledge

Adult Interview: During this episode was there any attempt to hit, punch, beat up, hit with an object or otherwise physically abuse [him / her]

Youth Interview: During this episode was there any attempt to hit, punch, beat you up, hit you with an object, or otherwise physically abuse you?

Sexual Assault

To the best of your knowledge

Adult Interview: During this episode was [child] sexually abused or molested?

Youth Interview: During this episode were you sexually abused or molested?

Attempted Sexual Assault

To the best of your knowledge

Adult Interview: During this episode was there any attempt to sexually abuse or molest [him / her]?

Youth Interview: During this episode was there any attempt to sexually abuse or molest you?

Robbery

To the best of your knowledge

Adult Interview: During this episode was [he / she] robbed or did [he / she] have any personal property or money taken?

Youth Interview: During this episode were you robbed or did you have any personal property or money taken?

Attempted Robbery:

To the best of your knowledge

Adult Interview: During this episode was there any intent to rob or take personal property or money from [him / her]?

Youth Interview: During this episode was there any intent to rob or take personal property or money from you?

Defining Harm

One of the two outcome variables examined in the analysis is harm to the child (with the other being police contact). Parents (and children) who participated in the NISMART-2 interview were asked if the event resulted in physical or mental harm to the child involved. Specifically:

Physical Harm

To the best of your knowledge

Adult Interview: Did [child] suffer any physical harm or injury during this episode?

Youth Interview: Did you suffer any physical harm or injury during this episode?

Mental Harm

To the best of your knowledge

Adult Interview: Was [child] mentally harmed by this episode?

Youth Interview: Were you mentally harmed by this episode?

If either the parent or the child (in cases where children were interviewed) responded to these questions in the affirmative, the event was defined as having resulted in some harm to the child.

Findings

Incidence of Secondary Victimization-General

A substantial minority of the children who experienced a missing event also had secondary victimizations. As seen in Table 1, more than 13% of the missing children reported at least one of the 3 categories of secondary victimization (or an attempt at one of these victimizations). Completed physical assaults were the most common incident reported (7.4%), followed by completed sexual assaults (3.3%). Interestingly, attempted acts were less common than were completed ones for all three categories of secondary victimization. This might be a reflection of the vulnerability of children who are experiencing a missing event-when they do encounter a motivated offender, the secondary crime may be more likely to be actually completed in this context. Among children who reported any form of secondary victimization, about a quarter (27%) reported more than one type of secondary victimization in the context of a missing.
Table 1

Secondary victimization among youth with any missing child event

Type of Secondary Victimization

% Experiencing Victimization

Any secondary victimization

13.5

Attempted physical assault

3.5

Physical assault

7.4

Attempted sexual assault

0.7

Sexual assault

3.3

Attempted robbery

0.6

Robbery

2.9

Demographic Patterns in the Experience of Secondary Victimization

Table 2 provides demographic characteristics of missing children who experienced secondary victimizations. With regard to gender, female children were very slightly more likely to experience any kind of secondary victimization than were male children. Boys were more likely to be physically assaulted, while girls were more likely to experience sexual assaults. Girls were also, however, more likely to report having been robbed in the context of a missing event. Boys were more likely to report multiple secondary victimizations in the context of their missing event. There is some evidence from other research that the ratio between male and female victimizations is more similar for children (especially young children) than for adults (Snyder 2000). The fact that the rates of victimization in the context of missing events are so similar for boys and girls, however, is nonetheless notable. The experience of being missing would seem to “trump” the impact of gender as a risk factor for violent victimization among these children.
Table 2

Demographic characteristics of missing children with secondary victimizations

Percent of Children in Category who Experienced:

Any Secondary

>1 Secondary

Attempted Physical Assault

Physical Assault

Attempted Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault

Attempted Robbery

Robbery

Gender

        

 Male

12.6

4.0

3.7

8.7

0.7

1.3

0.7

1.5

 Female

14.4

3.4

3.3

6.0

0.8

5.5

0.5

4.3

Age

        

 0–6

11.4

0.0

1.5

4.9

0.0

2.0

2.0

0.9

 7–12

21.8

7.0

7.9

11.5

0.0

5.9

0.7

4.7

 13–18

12.2

3.7

3.0

7.1

1.0

3.0

0.4

2.9

Area of Residence

        

Large city

22.3

8.9

4.6

11.5

2.4

10.5

1.3

7.1

Suburb

21.5

3.1

5.4

10.1

0.0

5.9

1.0

2.9

Large town

16.6

8.3

7.5

11.9

3.0

1.6

0.0

0.9

Small town

13.5

4.5

3.2

6.1

0.2

3.0

1.7

5.0

Rural area

13.2

0.0

1.5

8.7

0.0

1.5

0.0

1.5

Household Economic Status

        

Above poverty level

17.1

2.3

3.3

8.8

0.9

3.8

0.7

2.2

Below poverty level

16.4

11.8

6.9

11.0

1.1

6.3

1.5

7.7

Children between the ages of 7 and 12 had the highest reported rates of any secondary victimization, with children under age 6 reporting the second highest rate. The 7–12 year old children also had the highest rate of secondary victimization for all specific categories of victimization. Older children (13–17) were most likely to report multiple secondary victimizations in an event. The somewhat unexpected finding that children in the middle age group had the highest risk for secondary victimization is not, however, entirely unprecedented in the literature. In a study of child homicides, for example, Boudreaux et al. (2001) found that children in this age group were more likely to experience lethal violence in the context of sexual predation (while the violent deaths of older and younger children were more likely to occur in the context of “competition-based” aggression).

Children in the 7–12 year old age group were not the most likely to experience a missing event (indeed, almost 3/4 of the children with missing events were in the 13–17 year old age group), only most likely to experience some kind of secondary victimization in the context of the missing events they did have. A possible explanation for this pattern might rest in the physical vulnerability of children in this age group. When they are placed in a risky situation (i.e., a missing event of any type) perhaps they are more vulnerable to experiencing other types of victimization as well (e.g., less likely to defend themselves against a physical assault, or just generally a more attractive target, because of their smaller size, for a physical assault).

With regard to area of residence, the reported rates of secondary victimization are high for every category of residence (compared with the overall rate of 13.5%). This is likely due to the fact that about 1/3 (28%) of the cases were missing data on this variable. Thus, these results should be considered as valid patterns for those who reported an area of residence only. Children who resided in large cities and in suburbs of large cities were the most likely to experience a secondary victimization (with sexual and physical assaults being the most common form of victimization for these youth). Youngsters who lived in towns or rural areas had a lesser risk for secondary victimization overall, and for each individual category of victimization. Youth living in large cities had the highest likelihood of experiencing multiple secondary victimizations.

There were virtually no differences between poor and non-poor children in the overall rate at which any secondary victimization was reported. However, poor children were substantially more likely to experience multiple secondary victimizations-about 12% of the children from families below the poverty level had more than one secondary victimization which occurred in their missing event (compared to about 3% of those from families above the poverty level). While more non-poor children experienced at least one type of secondary victimization, rates of victimization in each specific category were generally higher for the poor youth (reflecting, of course, the fact that multiple victimizations were four times as likely for the poor). Poor children experienced considerably higher rates of robbery, and slightly higher rates of physical assault.

Secondary Victimization in the Context of Missing Event Types

As would be expected, some types of missing child events are much more likely to be associated with a secondary victimization than are others. As seen in Table 3, the most risky type of event is a non-family abduction (where more than three quarters of the children involved experienced some secondary victimization). Least risky were missing/lost (7.4% with secondary victimizations), runaway events (with 9.5% secondary victimizations) and benign missing episodes (13.2% secondary). The category of missing event with the second highest incidence of secondary victimizations was, notably, family abductions. Some children in every category of missing event experienced more than one type of secondary victimization-this was most common among the non-family abductions (where 34% had more than one secondary victimization).
Table 3

Secondary victimization in the context of missing children events

Percent of Episode Type who Experienced:

Any Secondary

Attempted Physical Assault

Physical Assault

Attempted Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault

Attempted Robbery

Robbery

Family abduction

17.5

2.4

8.2

0.0

4.0

1.9

2.6

Benign missing

12.7

6.8

7.9

0.0

0.0

0.4

0.5

Missing/Lost

7.4

1.7

4.9

3.1

0.8

0.0

2.2

Non-family abduction

78.4

27.0

28.9

6.3

48.3

0.0

41.0

Runaway

8.4

0.9

5.7

0.4

1.3

0.5

1.0

Physical assaults were the most common form of secondary victimization for family abductions, benign missing, missing/lost, and runaway children. Sexual assault, predictably, was the most common form of secondary victimization in the non-family abduction cases. Robbery was the second most likely form of secondary victimization for these non-family abducted children.

The relatively high rate of secondary victimization occurring in family abductions is the most surprising finding here. As stated above, one might reasonably expect children to be safer from secondary victimizations in the context of this type of missing event, as they are at least in the presence of a known adult caretaker. The most common type of secondary victimization among the family abducted children was physical assault. It is likely that these assaults were a form of child abuse (i.e., perpetrated by the abductor). Other research has commented on the connection between family abductions and family violence (Plass et al. 1997). This pattern would seem to offer further confirmation of this.

Secondary Victimization and Abduction Outcomes

Tables 4 and 5 examine the effects of secondary victimization on missing child event outcomes, specifically, the experience of physical or mental harm for the child involved, and the involvement of police in the case. In terms of harm, children who had a secondary victimization as part of their missing event were considerably more likely to experience both physical and mental harm. The presence of a secondary victimization was also highly predictive of police involvement-police were involved in 67% of the episodes which had secondary victimization, as opposed to only 39% of those which did not. Further, children who reported multiple forms of secondary victimization in their missing event were more likely to report both types of harm, and police contact, than were children who reported only a single form of secondary victimization. Generally, physical harm was (predictably) most common in cases that involved a physical assault, mental harm most common in cases that involved a sexual assault.
Table 4

The effects of secondary victimizations on outcomes: physical and mental harm and police contact

Percent of Victimization

Physical Harm

Mental Harm

Police Contacted

Any secondary victimization

27.0

33.0

66.9

No secondary victimization

1.6

8.5

38.8

 Gamma

0.92

0.68

0.52

One secondary victimization

36.8

23.5

59.9

> one secondary victimization

23.3

58.0

85.5

No secondary victimization

1.6

8.5

38.8

 Gamma

0.89

0.68

0.52

Physical assault

39.2

23.9

66.1

No physical assault

2.3

10.8

40.7

 Gamma

0.93

0.44

0.48

Attempted physical assault

10.9

31.8

77.3

No attempted physical assault

4.8

11.10

41.4

 Gamma

0.41

0.58

0.66

Sexual assault

25.9

71.4

84.7

No sexual assault

4.3

9.7

41.2

 Gamma

0.77

0.92

0.78

Attempted sexual assault

47.2

49.8

65.1

No attempted sexual assault

4.7

11.5

42.5

 Gamma

0.90

0.77

0.43

Robbery

26.3

66.9

72.4

No robbery

4.4

10.1

41.7

 Gamma

0.77

0.89

0.57

Attempted robbery

44.8

51.4

79.7

No attempted robbery

4.8

11.5

42.4

 Gamma

0.88

0.78

0.68

Table 5

The effects of secondary victimization on outcomes by type of missing child event: physical and mental harm and police contact

Percent of Specific Type of Missing Children who Experienced:

Physical Harm

Mental Harm

Police Contacted

Any missing child event

   

 Any secondary victimization

27.0

33.0

66.9

 No secondary victimization

1.6

8.5

38.8

  Gamma

.92

.68

.52

Family abduction

   

 Any secondary victimization

34.0

56.1

81.3

 No secondary victimization

1.70

46.2

56.8

  Gamma

.94

.20

.54

Benign missing

   

 Any secondary victimization

10.1

0.0

82.5

 No secondary victimization

1.0

4.5

79.2

  Gamma

.84

−1.0

.11

Missing/Lost

   

 Any secondary victimization

88.7

64.9

76.2

 No secondary victimization

14.7

5.7

22.3

  Gamma

.96

.94

.84

Non-family Abduction

   

 Any secondary victimization

30.4

69.9

67.8

 No secondary victimization

0.0

26.7

26.7

  Gamma

1.0

.73

.70

Runaway

   

 Any secondary victimization

23.7

11.2

42.4

 No secondary victimization

0.3

1.6

22.0

  Gamma

.98

.77

.45

These relationships between secondary victimization and outcomes are consistent across categories of missing event as well (as seen in Table 5). Regardless of the type of missing event, secondary victimization is associated with a considerably higher likelihood of physical harm, of mental harm, and of police contact.

These findings are least surprising with regard to the incidence of physical harm-physical harm would more or less automatically qualify as a secondary victimization (hence it is not surprising that physical harm is more common in events which also had some sort of secondary victimization). The patterns with regard to mental harm and police involvement, however, are less self explanatory. As discussed above, there is a fairly wide variety in the types of missing child events considered here-some are clearly more “serious” or alarming, by definition, than are others. Given that, it is quite notable that across categories of missing event, it is the presence of some secondary victimization which is so highly predictive of both mental/emotional harm and police involvement in the cases.

Discussion

One of the difficulties with research in the area of missing children is the fact that this term-“missing child”-encompasses several disparate types of events, albeit still a coherent category of incident. A teenaged runaway and a toddler who wanders away from her caretaker in a department store are both “missing children” even though there are many ways in which their situations are different. It is important that research in this field should continue to focus on identifying both the unique and the shared characteristics of all categories of missing children.

The experience of secondary victimization is clearly one of these common characteristics, and arguably among the most important. Being a missing child is not always the same as being a crime victim. Some missing children are technically offenders (runaways), some are clearly victims (family and non-family abductions) and some are neither (the “benign missing” category here, for example). Regardless of the context of the missing event, however, it is obvious that lost children are at risk for victimizations which are universally and unambiguously criminal. While being missing in and of itself is likely alarming for children and their caretakers, it is what happens during the period of being lost which should be of most concern to us.

One key question regarding the relationship between being lost and experiencing other victimizations is necessarily left unanswered by these analyses, due to the nature of the data. Is the missing event a cause or an effect of the secondary victimizations reported here? Are children “lost” because of being victimized in another way (for example, the child who is late coming home from school because he has been attacked by a bully on the way home)? Or are children victimized because of being “lost” (for example, the runaway who sleeps on the street for the night and is robbed)? Even the examination of the narrative accounts of caretakers and children in describing the NISMART-2 events was insufficient to determine an answer to this question. It is extremely significant, however, in determining the true nature of this relationship, and in planning strategy for keeping children safer.

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007