The case of the man in Cleveland, Ohio, accused of kidnapping three women and a young child - and holding some of them for a decade - is both horrific and rare. Most of the 800,000 children reported missing every year in the United States are found within a few hours. For the 100 or so who are abducted by sexual predators, however, their chances of survival go down significantly the longer their captivity lasts.
The news that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were alive and free - after being kidnapped a decade ago - sparked celebrations in their home town. Robert Lowery, with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said their miraculous escape from years of captivity is unprecedented in the U.S.
“This is the first time we’ve ever seen multiple women held by an abductor, or it looks like it may have been singular, but we are not sure yet. We haven’t got all the details from Cleveland, but it is highly unusual and it is not something that we see every day,” said Lowery.
Usually, the longer children go missing, the smaller the chance they will be found alive. But Lowery said this case and others give new cause for hope. Jaycee Dugard was found alive 18 years after she was kidnapped in California, and Elizabeth Smart spent nine months in captivity in Utah before she was found.
In Cleveland, public joy over the return of the missing women is tempered by the horror of their ordeal. The women say Ariel Castro, the 52- year-old man charged with kidnapping and rape, chained them in the basement, impregnated some and repeatedly beat them.
Lowery said it is important for children to know that there are sexual predators out there, and that they should be on guard when strangers approach them.
“If someone tries to grab them, we really encourage parents to tell their children, ‘Fight back, kick, scream, bring as much attention to that situation as you can' because it is the assertive children that we find are escaping from the clutches of these kind of offenders,” said Lowery.
While horrific kidnappings are relatively rare, Lowery says public awareness can help deter future abductions and find those who are still missing.