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Frequently Asked Questions and Statistics

How many missing children are there?

What can I do to prevent parental abduction?

Aren’t most missing kids a result of custodial disagreements?

How many missing children are found deceased? What hours are most critical when trying to locate a missing child?

How big of a problem is child sexual exploitation?

How many children are sexually approached and/or solicited online?

Are "stranger-danger" Programs Effective?

Do the cards I get in the mail really help recover missing children?

Do you put pictures of missing kids on milk cartons?

Is NCMEC John Walsh’s organization?

How can I help find missing children?

How do I get copies of NCMEC publications?

May I photocopy NCMEC's safety tips?

What is the CyberTipline?

Please contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's (NCMEC) Office of Public Affairs by calling 1-877-44-NCMEC, extension 6351, or 703-274-3900 if you have any questions about the following information. You will need the Adobe® Acrobat® Reader to view the documents on this page. Download a free copy of the Adobe Acrobat Reader.

How many missing children are there?
Answer: The problem of missing children is complex and multifaceted. There are different types of missing children including family abductions; endangered runaways; nonfamily abductions; and lost, injured, or otherwise missing children. The best national estimates for the number of missing children are from incidence studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

To date two such studies have been completed. The first National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART-1) was released in 1990, and the second, known as NISMART-2, was released in October 2002. According to NISMART-2 research, which studied the year 1999, an estimated 797,500 children were reported missing; 58,200 children were abducted by nonfamily members; 115 children were the victims of the most serious, long-term nonfamily abductions called "stereotypical kidnappings"; and 203,900 children were the victims of family abductions.

REFERENCE: For more information on missing children abduction estimates and the NISMART studies, please read

NISMART-2, October 2002. National Estimates of Missing Children: An Overview Adobe PDF

NISMART-2, October 2002. Nonfamily Abducted Children: National Estimates and Characteristics Adobe PDF

NISMART-2, October 2002. Children Abducted by Family Members: National Estimates and Characteristics Adobe PDF

NISMART-2, October 2002. Runaway/Thrownaway Children: National Estimates and Characteristics Adobe PDF

NISMART-2, October 2002. NISMART Questions and Answers Adobe PDF

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What can I do to prevent parental abduction?
Answer: The most important thing you can do to prevent abduction is to maintain healthy communication with your children and spouse. NCMEC also recommends that you teach your child important telephone numbers and where to go in case of an emergency.

REFERENCE: To learn about parental abductions and how to prevent them please read

Early Identification of Risk Factors for Parental Abduction Adobe PDF

Just in Case…Parental Guidelines in Case You Are Considering Family Separation

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Aren’t most missing kids a result of custodial disagreements?
Answer: The largest number of missing children are “runaways”; followed by “family abductions”; then “lost, injured, or otherwise missing children”; and finally, the smallest category, but the one in which the child is at greatest risk of injury or death, “nonfamily abductions.” Many times this question is asked under the assumption that family abductions are not a serious matter; however, this is not true. In most cases children are told that the left-behind parent doesn’t want or love them. These children may live the life of a fugitive, always on the run with the noncustodial parent and stripped away from their home, friends, school, and family.

REFERENCE: For definitions, kidnapping statistics, and more parental abduction information please read

Kidnapping of Juveniles: Patterns From National Incident Based Report System (NIBRS) Adobe PDF

"The Kid Is With A Parent How Bad Can It Be?": The Crisis of Family Abductions in America

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How many missing children are found deceased? What hours are most critical when trying to locate a missing child?
Answer: According to a 1997 study by the State of Washington’s Office of the Attorney General “the murder of a child who is abducted ... is a rare event. There are estimated to be about 100 such incidents in the United States each year, less than one-half of one percent of the murders committed”; however, “74 percent of abducted children who are murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction.”

REFERENCE: For victim and predator profiles and missing-children homicide statistics please read

Case Management for Missing Children Homicide Investigation Adobe PDF

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How big of a problem is child sexual exploitation?
Answer: The sexual victimization of children is overwhelming in magnitude yet largely unrecognized and underreported. Statistics show that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys are sexually exploited before they reach adulthood, yet less than 35% of those child sexual assaults are reported to authorities.

REFERENCE: To learn more about child sexual exploitation and prevention, please visit NCMEC's campaign against child sexual exploitation and read

Preventing the Sexual Exploitation of Children

Parental Guidelines in Case Your Child Might Someday be the Victim of Sexual Exploitation

How many children are sexually approached and/or solicited online?
Answer: According to Highlights of the Youth Internet Safety Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice “one in five children (10 to 17 years old) receive unwanted sexual solicitations online.”

REFERENCE: For prevention resources and to learn about the seriousness of online predators, online statistics, and profiles please read

Highlights of the Youth Internet Safety Survey Adobe PDF

Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation's Youth

Netsmartz Workshop

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Are "stranger-danger" Programs effective?
Answer: The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) does not, as a matter of policy, provide reviews of unsolicited materials, but we do appreciate knowing about educational materials that are available to families. In 1984 the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children was created as the clearinghouse federally mandated by the U.S. Congress to assist families and law enforcement in cases of missing and exploited children. In that role we are happy to share our general philosophy and information about resources regarding safety and prevention education.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children does not ascribe to the "stranger-danger" message. We have learned that children do not have the same understanding of who a stranger is as an adult might; therefore, it is a difficult concept for the child to grasp. It is much more beneficial to children to help them build the confidence and self-esteem they need to stay as safe as possible in any potentially dangerous situation they encounter rather than teaching them to be "on the look out" for a particular type of person. The "stranger-danger" message is not effective and, based on what we know about those who harm children, danger to children is greater from someone they or their family knows than from a "stranger."

For decades, parents, guardians, and teachers have told children to "stay away from strangers," in an effort to keep them safe. In response to the on-going debate about the effectiveness of such programs, NCMEC released the research-based Guidelines for Programs to Reduce Child Victimization: A Resource for Communities When Choosing a Program to Teach Personal Safety to Children to assist schools as they select curricula aimed at reducing crimes against children.

NCMEC created its Education Standards Task Force in 1997 to assess leading research and tap the best thinking to create meaningful, usable guidelines and criteria for child-safety curricula. The Task Force concluded "while virtually every school conducts some sort of child-safety program for its students, most are inadequate and few offer the kind of positive, comprehensive, research-based, grade- and age-appropriate curricula that is necessary." The Task Force concluded that all training and educational materials proposed for use by schools and organizations that serve children should

  • be based on accepted educational theories
  • be appropriate for the age, educational, and developmental levels of the child
  • offer concepts that will help children build self-confidence in order to better handle and protect themselves in all types of situations
  • have multiple program components that are repeated several years in a row
  • utilize qualified presenters who use role-playing, behavioral rehearsal, feedback, and active participation

These Guidelines include a Preparation Checklist, Curriculum Scorecard, and Program Evaluation Checklist to "provide a framework for communities when selecting safety programs and making curriculum decisions, in order for school decision-makers to provide the most effective program possible" and one that children will enjoy and understand and will change children's behavior to help keep them safer.

REFERENCE: To find out more about how to protect your children be sure to read

Child Protection

Guidelines for Programs to Reduce Child Victimization: A Resource for Communities When Choosing a Program to Teach Personal Safety to Children

Know the Rules...Abduction & Kidnapping Prevention Tips for Parents

Know the Rules...General Parental Tips to Help Keep Your Children Safer

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Do the cards I get in the mail really help recover missing children?
Answer: Absolutely. One in six of the missing kids featured on these cards and through the efforts of other NCMEC photo partners are recovered as a direct result of the photograph. In fact, because of the ADVO® mailing, NCMEC reaches up to 79 million homes weekly with the photographs of missing children.

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Do you put pictures of missing kids on milk cartons?
Answer: Although NCMEC itself does not post photographs of missing children on milk cartons, NCMEC photo partners may do so. There are more than 360 active corporate photo partners nationwide.

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Is NCMEC John Walsh’s organization?
Answer: After the abduction and murder of their son, Adam, in 1981, John and Revé Walsh became effective advocates on behalf of missing children’s issues. Mrs. Walsh serves on the NCMEC Board of Directors and Mr. Walsh serves on the Board’s Chief Executive Officers Council and National Advisory Board, and acts as an NCMEC spokesperson. Their hard work and determination helped to create NCMEC which now serves as the national clearinghouse for information on missing children and the prevention of child victimization.

REFERENCE: To learn more about NCMEC and the many services it provides please visit "Our Services" on this website or read

Annual Report

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: A Powerful Resource for Families, Children and Law Enforcement Adobe PDF

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How can I help find missing children?
Answer: The best way to help NCMEC is to take the time to look at the photographs of missing children in the many venues, including ADVO postcards, at Wal-Mart® stores, in federal buildings, and report any information about those children to NCMEC’s toll-free Hotline 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). You can also help by keeping up-to-date photographs of your own children. After all, one out of six of the children featured in this NCMEC's photo distribution program has been recovered as a direct result.

REFERENCE: To become more aware of ways you can help find missing children visit the "Get Involved" area on this web site.

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How do I get copies of NCMEC publications?
Answer: To obtain a list of or order NCMEC books and brochures, please call the toll-free Hotline 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or visit the Publications area on this web site.

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May I photocopy NCMEC's safety tips?

Answer: As the federally mandated clearinghouse established to assist with cases of missing and exploited children, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has a policy that promotes the wide disseminating of our copyrighted publications for educational, noncommercial purposes. Please read our Reprint Policy to learn the specific criteria under which you are allowed to reprint and disseminate our copyrighted materials.

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What is the CyberTipline?
Answer:
The Congressionally-mandated CyberTipline is a reporting mechanism for cases of child sexual exploitation including pornographic images of children, online enticement of children for sex acts, molestation of children outside the family, sex tourism of children, child victims of prostitution, and unsolicited obscene material sent to a child. Reports may be made 24-hours per day, 7 days per week online at www.cybertipline.com or by calling 1-800-843-5678.

Reference: For more information, please visit the CyberTipline area on this web site.

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