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Snatched

Child Abductions in U.S. News Media

Series:

Spring-Serenity Duvall and Leigh Moscowitz

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.
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Chapter 6: Conclusion: Innocence Lost

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Chapter 6

Conclusion: Innocence Lost

What if a man would have came and just snatched her because you have all kinds of trucks that come up in here so you really don’t know?

—(Tonya Cullum, WJBF, July 1, 2014)

In the summer of 2014, a mother in South Carolina dropped her nine-year-old daughter off at a park, leaving her to play for hours at a time over several days while she worked at a nearby McDonald’s. When police arrested the mother, Debra Harrell, for child endangerment and placed the girl in child protective custody, a media frenzy erupted over the mother’s decision to leave her child unsupervised because she could not afford childcare. Most opined that the police had overreached out of an unrealistic fear, expressed by community members in the initial local reporting of the arrest, that the girl was in danger of being snatched by a male stranger.

The current cultural discourses about childhood, innocence, fear and danger are undergoing a compelling shift as anxieties over child abductions and sexual predators are being simultaneously reinforced and dismantled by parents, pundits, and journalists. In this concluding chapter, we seek to situate contemporary news narratives of child ← 127 | 128 → abductions within the current milieu of tabloid journalism, fear mongering over childhood safety, and the ongoing disparities in news coverage of crime, race, class, and gender. We first examine the ethics of journalism that sensationalizes child victims and...

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