A critical examination of features differentiating attempted and completed cases of male perpetrated stranger child abduction in the UK

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is on the topic of stranger child abduction. In particular, the thesis carries out an examination of whether a distinction should be made between attempted and completed cases of stranger child abduction, in order to address the primary research question of whether each of these should be treated as separate types of stranger child abduction. By comparing whether an offence was completed or not, it has been argued that researchers will be best able to identify those factors that can have an impact in determining whether harm will come to victims, and highlight those that play a role in crime prevention or the mitigation of the offence. Utilising an archival approach, drawing on media and legal sources to create a database of stranger child abduction cases, the thesis is able to examine four key areas relating to stranger child abduction, with the specific intent of examining whether key offence features can be meaningfully compared depending on whether the case was attempted or completed. The thesis concludes that attempted and completed cases are sufficiently distinct to be considered as separate types of offending, and that comparing stranger child abduction cases based on whether they were completed is a useful way of analysing this type of offence.

The thesis has the secondary aim of testing widely held assumptions regarding
stranger child abduction, i.e., that certain resistance strategies prevent abduction or that offenders prefer to target lone victims. By examining the features of the established database, the releveance and role of these assumptions was tested empirically. It was concluded that, for the most part, many of the common sense assumptions relating to stranger child abduction, i.e., that running away from an offender and calling for help would be associated with offences being attempted, were true. However, several assumptions and stereotypes were refuted, particularly with regards to children being effective guardians over one another.

To provide context for the study, the thesis begins by explaining that issues relating to missing people have been, and must be, analysed via a process of refinement that involves the discovery of increasingly specific types. The abduction of children by strangers has emerged as one of these types, and has become of great interest to the media, the public, and to policy makers. However, following a critical literature review, it is argued that this type of child abduction remains poorly understood, and is subject to a number of problematic stereotypes that have been taken as fact. What academic research has been done on the topic has been overly concerned with establishing how often stranger child abduction occurs, with relatively little effort being made to further refine knowledge on the topic. A strain of arguments within the literature is identified that has been calling, with increasing conviction, to begin analysing stranger child abduction in terms of whether the offence was attempted or completed, i.e., to use an outcome based approach. After reviewing evidence in the literature, the conclusion can be drawn that this line of inquiry ought to be explored further. This thesis takes up this challenge by, first, gathering data on a sample of 78 stranger child abductions that occurred in the UK utilizing information drawn from legal and media sources, and, secondly, analysing the features of these cases while controlling for whether the offence was completed or attempted. The thesis takes the form of four studies, each of which analyses a different aspect of stranger child abduction that has been identified as key to the offence.

The four studies are used: to show that the broad case profile of stranger child
abduction varies when attempted cases are compared to completed cases; to provide evidence that direct, active, unequivocal resistance is associated with attempted cases and can therefore be considered effective; to assess the role of various forms of guardianship over children in preventing harm, which simultaneously pointed towards evidence of best practice while also demonstrating that criminological theory can usefully be applied to stranger child abduction when utilizing an outcome based approach; and to successfully build on and develop understanding of how offenders approach child abduction, and demonstrate that aggressive offenders who use multiple strategies tend to complete abductions more frequently than those using a single method.
Date of AwardOct 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorKaren Shalev (Supervisor)

Cite this