Child Abductions in U.S. News Media

by Spring-Serenity Duvall (Author) Leigh Moscowitz (Author)
©2016 Textbook VIII, 176 Pages
Series: Mediated Youth, Volume 25


Few crimes provoke the collective fear, public outrage, and media fascination that child abductions do. Stories about missing children capture national headlines and dominate public discourses about crime and deviance, child safety, parenting, the American family, and gender and sexuality.
Snatched is the first book-length study to interrogate the predominant myths centered on gender and class that shaped mainstream U.S. news coverage of kidnappings in the 2000s. Through an exploration of hundreds of reports from newspapers, news magazines, television broadcasts, and web stories, Snatched critically analyzes how news narratives construct the phenomenon of child abductions, the young girls and boys who fall victim, the male perpetrators of these horrific crimes, and the adult victims of long-term abductions who were found years later. The book’s interdisciplinary nature, methodological rigor, and thorough investigation into some of the most riveting and revolting crimes of the last decade make Snatched a worthy, important, and timely contribution to the fields of media studies and girlhood studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance praise for Snatched
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Introduction: Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare
  • Chapter 2: The Summer of Child Abductions
  • Chapter 3: When Boys Go Missing
  • Chapter 4: Why Didn’t They Leave?
  • Chapter 5: The Ones Who Got Away: “Unlikely” Heroes and Brave Survivors
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion: Innocence Lost
  • Media Examples Cited
  • Timeline of Major Cases Prominently Featured in U.S. News Media
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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We are indebted to the many individuals whose support, insights and guidance made this book possible, from its imperfect origins as a class project through to its final publication. This project originated as part of our graduate work nearly a decade ago at the Indiana University School of Journalism, and we remain forever indebted to Radhika Parameswaran and Betsi Grabe, true teacher-scholars whose scholarship and mentorship provided us with the foundational tools that inspired and informed this work. We are also incredibly appreciative of the careful and attentive work of Sharon Mazzarella, our series editor, whose own scholarship shaped our thinking about this project. In addition, she devoted countless hours to reading, commenting on and critiquing various versions of this manuscript, providing critical insights that helped us refine our arguments. This book project would not have been possible without the work of Mary Savigar, our fantastic editor, as well as Sophie Appel and the entire Peter Lang production team.

Spring is indebted to Salem College for generously providing funding to support the production of this book. She is fortunate beyond measure to have friends and colleagues whose kindness sustained ← VII | VIII → her during the writing of this book, especially Jessica Birthisel, Lindita Camaj, Lori Henson, Stacie Jankowski, Ammina Kothari, and Rosemary Pennington. She would like to thank her sister, Robyn Dey O’Neal, for listening and understanding.

Finally, she is profoundly grateful for the love of her family—her daughters, Lilian and Rowan, whose smiles made writing this book more heartbreaking and urgent, and her husband, Court, for the patience and unwavering encouragement that made difficult days bearable.

Leigh is also indebted to two wonderful institutions whose support made this publication possible: The College of Charleston for granting her sabbatical leave to research and draft the manuscript, and the University of South Carolina for supporting the publication of the book, including securing funding to support its production. She is grateful to her colleagues, friends and family members from across the country who have sustained her throughout the writing process, people like Andy Billings, April Bisner, Erin Benson Lee, Janis Cakars and Melissa Cakars, Christy and Mike Conway, Suz Enck, Erica and Chip Gray, Tamara Leech, Mike Lee, David Parisi, Ryan Milner, John and Stephanie Stickler, Kristen Swenson and Mary-Tina Vrehas. She is eternally grateful to her parents for their continued dedication to her academic pursuits, Beverly and Rick Mehrlich, Ray and Barbara Moscowitz and James Stickler.

Finally, she owes her greatest debt to her family, those she held a little bit tighter through researching and writing this difficult book—her children, Amelia and Eli, and her partner, David Moscowitz, whose own passion for scholarship and writing inspire her to continue on.

We would also like to acknowledge our own friendship, which is what allowed us to write a book that neither of us could have tackled alone. Spending countless hours researching a topic as devastating as child abductions was at times grueling and we leaned on each other when the project became difficult. We are grateful to each other for the friendship and shared dedication to research that carried us through.

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Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

Kidnapping is a modern morality play, the innocence of the child in stark contrast to the corruption of the criminal, all played out by a media industry eager to feed the worst fears of every parent.

—Paula Fass, Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America (1997)

Few crimes provoke the kind of collective fear, outrage, and fascination that child abductions do. Over the last decade, American media has obsessively covered the individual disappearances, and in some cases, reappearances, of missing children like Elizabeth Smart, Samantha Runnion, Danielle van Dam, Carlie Brucia, Jaycee Lee Dugard, Shawn Hornbeck, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, among others. The international abduction cases of Elisabeth Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch, both from Austria, and Madeleine McCann from the U.K., were also highly publicized in the U.S. These often gruesome and gut-wrenching stories have struck fear in American families, captured the public’s imagination, impacted law and public policy, and shaped cultural discourses about childhood.

Moreover, the abductions that dominated media headlines in the 2000s were not random or representative cases. Clear patterns emerged ← 1 | 2 → in the kidnappings that attracted the most media attention. Though statistically rare, U.S. news media disproportionally covered stories of young Caucasian girls being snatched from their middle-to upper class homes by male strangers, constructing a nationwide epidemic of “every parent’s worst nightmare” (Murr, 2002, p. 38). These kidnapping stories, covered obsessively by mainstream news organizations, perpetuate powerful social myths about vulnerability in girlhood, hypersexuality and violence in masculinity, and criminality and deviance from “strangers” and “othered” groups. Pervasive images of missing little girls have served as a metaphor for a vulnerable, fragile nation suffering from a weakened economy, political instability, and the cultural aftershocks of terrorist attacks (Faludi, 2007).


VIII, 176
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (March)
Child Abuse Abduction Kidnapping
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. VIII, 176 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Spring-Serenity Duvall (Author) Leigh Moscowitz (Author)

Spring-Serenity Duvall (PhD., Indiana University) is Assistant Professor of Communications in the Department of Communication at Salem College. Her research has been published in the Journal of Children and Media; Communication, Culture, and Critique; and Feminist Media Studies. She was the 2015 Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Transnational Studies at Brock University, Ontario. Leigh Moscowitz (PhD., Indiana University) is Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina. Her research has been published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media; the Journal of Children and Media; Feminist Media Studies; and Girlhood Studies. She is the author of The Battle over Marriage: Gay Rights Activism through the Media (2013).


Title: Snatched
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189 pages