Earlier this week, a mother and social-media influencer from Petaluma, California shared frightening allegations of an attempted kidnapping. Her story quickly went viral, sparking renewed conversations about child trafficking. But while Katie Sorensen's viral story may be alarming, kidnapping statistics show that such abductions are quite rare.
“My children were the targets of attempted kidnap,” Sorensen said in a video uploaded to her @motherhoodessentials Instagram account. “I want to share that story with you in an effort to raise awareness.”
Sorensen has since made the two videos she posted about the incident and her Instagram account private, although parts of her video can still be found posted by others on both YouTube and Twitter. But she told KTVU the incident in question occurred Dec. 7, when she took her 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter to a nearby Michael's craft store. Sorensen claimed a man and woman followed her into the store after observing her loading her children into their stroller in the parking lot. Sorensen told the news outlet she heard the couple commenting on her children's physical features while she shopped but ultimately didn't confront them or say anything about their behavior as she was "paralyzed with fear."
Sorensen alleged that the couple followed them out of the store and into the parking lot, where the man reached out toward Sorensen "as if to grab the stroller," KTVU reported. That's when Sorensen said she yelled for help, causing the couple to take off in a car.
In a press release put out Monday, the Petaluma Police Department confirmed Sorensen came to them to report "suspicious behavior exhibited by two adults" but said her Instagram videos contained "information" and "inconsistencies" Sorensen had not disclosed to them. Police also noted that Sorensen had told them she "did not want anyone arrested" and instead merely wanted "to draw attention to the concerning behavior."
Still, stories of alleged attempted kidnapping are alarming for any parent to hear, and it's not altogether surprising that Sorensen's videos garnered millions of views before she made them private. But while some have voiced support for Sorensen, characterizing her story as a "scary" reminder to always be vigilant, others have questioned the accuracy of her story or criticized her for failing to alert store employees or police to the behavior while in the store and for not getting an escort to her car.
"Never once did she tell the clerk or say anything or call the cops or wait in the store until the cops came to help her to the car," one Facebook user commented in regards to Sorensen's story. "I get it you get scared and you freeze, but when your kids are in danger there are so many other things that you can do besides be silent and then go walk out into harm's way."
Others questioned why Sorensen wouldn't want authorities to make an arrest. "I cannot fathom not wanting someone arrested for trying to kidnap my child," another Facebook user wrote. "I also cannot fathom not wanting that person arrested so they can't do it to someone else."
So, Sorensen's story continues to circulate across social media, just how frequently do kidnappings like the one she described occur?
Kidnappings Facilitated By Strangers Or People Unrelated To A Child Are Rare
An abduction attempt like the one Sorensen described, in which strangers make an effort to take a child, is classified as a non-family abduction or stereotypical abduction. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), non-family abductions are the rarest type of missing children cases, making up just 1% of the missing children cases reported to the organization.
Data from the FBI has also shown the rarity of non-family abductions. In 2019, the FBI told Reuters that fewer than 350 people age 21 or younger had been abducted by strangers per year since 2010. In fact, the FBI reported that abduction by a stranger accounted for just 0.1% of juvenile disappearances in cases where the circumstances of the disappearances are recorded.
A Majority Of Missing Children Are Not Abducted
More than 95% of missing juvenile cases end up being a situation where the person in question ran away on their own, the FBI told Reuters. This statistic is consistent with data from the Polly Klaas Foundation, a nonprofit formed in 1993 to assist in the recovery of missing children and the prevention of crimes against children.
According to the Polly Klass Foundation, roughly 90% of missing-child cases stem from situations in which children have run away, gotten lost, misunderstood directions, or failed to properly communicate their plans to adults. In contrast, the Polly Klass Foundation has reported that approximately 100 children — representing only a fraction of 1% — are kidnapped by strangers each year.
Children Are More Likely To Be Kidnapped By A Family Member
Data from both the Polly Klass Foundation and NCMEC show that children are significantly more likely to be abducted by a family member or someone they know. This is also true in cases of child sex trafficking, according to Polaris Project, a nonprofit dedicated to combating human trafficking.
A Child May Be Most At Risk For Abduction Going To Or From School
Of course, while rare, non-family child abduction do happen, meaning it's important for parents and caregivers to know where children may be most at risk. According to an analysis of 10 years of attempted abductions NCMEC conducted, most attempted child abductions occurred while a child was going to or from school or other school-related activities. Subsequently, the analysis also found that the majority of abduction attempts occurred on the street.
As her story went viral, Sorensen told BuzzFeed News she'd taken her allegations of attempted kidnapping public in an effort to "encourage fellow parents to always remain vigilant," a message most parents can get behind no matter how rare non-family abductions are.