The Lamar County, Georgia, sheriff's department reported late Thursday that two teen girls reported missing Wednesday morning have been found safe. The FBI and federal marshals recovered the teens in Tennessee after a harrowing joyride that turned into a kidnapping. ABC Otus News said Amber Henry, 16, and Kirsten Kamradt, 14, left home in the pre-dawn hours of the morning Wednesday to go for a ride with men they'd met through a social networking site. The men took the girls across state lines against their will, the report said.
Ultimately the kidnappers released Amber who called authorities. The police later pulled over the car in which the two kidnappers were still holding Kirsten. The kidnappers were identified as Joshua Crowe, 19, and Dustin Elliott, 19.
Social Networking and Kidnapping Risk
This is the kind of story that makes a media splash and sets parents' nerves on edge. It's a story that also prompts the question, how great is the risk of a child being kidnapped by a predator trolling social networking sites?
According to research published by Henry Jenkins and Danah Boyd at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006, the risk is de minimis.
"Statistically speaking, kids are more at risk at a church picnic or a boy scout outing than they are when they go on MySpace," Boyd said in an interview about her research. "Less than .01% of all youth abductions nationwide are stranger abductions and as far as we know, no stranger abduction has occurred because of social network services."
The last statement may have become outdated, but the interview contains still relevant observations.Media often rely on a startling statistic published by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2000 in drumming up fear of online predators. One in five children age 10 to 17 receive a solicitation online, that report says. But that information standing alone is incredibly misleading, Jenkins and Boyd note. It includes solicitations by other children, welcome solicitations as well as unwelcome ones, and solicitations by acquaintances as well as strangers.
One in 33 youth received what the report called an aggressive solicitation online. While that still sounds alarming, a close read indicates a broad interpretation of aggression. Any face-to-face meeting request, telephone call, snail mail, gift or money resulted in labeling the contact aggressive.
Sex Crimes Originating with Online Contact
A 2008 study of internet sex crimes by University of New Hampshire researchers also concluded the popular myth of adults using the internet to prey on innocent children online is misleading. It's not that online predation doesn't happen, but the way it happens differs from the popular image of pedophiles seeking out innocent young children.
When sex crimes do occur online, they usually involve teens who know that they're talking with adults who want to engage in sex, the report said. The cases result in statutory rape charges because the teens can't legally consent to sex with an adult. Only five percent of cases involved adults posing as teens. The researchers also say that the offenders rarely hide their interest in sexual contact. When there's deception, it's usually a promise of love or romance.