2009-09-10 / Features

What Can Be Learned From Dugard's Kidnapping Ordeal?

Few abducted children held for long periods return alive. Her case offers hope for other cold cases, as well as 'opportunities to learn'
By Michael B. Farrell STAFF WRITER OF THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR

SAN FRANCISCO - As details come to light about the recovery and horrifying 18-year captivity of Jaycee Lee Dugard, lessons about how to prevent or uncover the most tragic sorts of child abductions are also likely to emerge.

What is already known is that Dugard, who was kidnapped in 1991 in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., allegedly by a convicted sex offender, managed to do what many children nabbed by strangers don't. She survived.

Of about 100 children abducted each year by strangers, 40 are killed, according to U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) estimates. In 4 percent of cases, the victim is never found.

As is allegedly the case with Dugard, sexual predators are often responsible for such kidnappings. More than half of children taken by strangers, the DOJ statistics show, are sexually abused by their captors.

How the suspects in the case, Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy Garrido, were able to hide Jaycee and, later, two daughters he is thought to have fathered by her - and to have disabled their flight - will be of utmost interest to law-enforcement officers and those who work on behalf of victimized children.

"A case like this offers a plethora of opportunities to learn," says Ernie Allen, president and chief executive officer for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

While Dugard was eventually freed through the work of a California parole officer, Mr. Garrido's status as a violent sex offender on parole has raised questions about his supervision in particular and the oversight of such sex offenders in general.

Garrido, of Antioch, Calif., was convicted of kidnapping a woman in the Tahoe area in the 1970s. He drove her to Reno, Nev., where he raped her. He was sentenced to 50 years but placed on lifetime parole in 1988. When the Garridos moved to California, that parole was transferred to California officials, according to a time line from the Sacramento Bee.

His status as a violent sex offender meant that Garrido was required to have regular contact with his parole office.

What's more, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Dugard has had several run-ins with police, including home inspections.

"Phillip Craig Garrido had several contacts with the law in recent years, but until this week he kept authorities from finding the backyard compound near Antioch where he allegedly held Jaycee Lee Dugard captive," the Chronicle reported.

"It's troubling that someone who is a registered sex offender could do this under the supervision of the state," says Allen.

While he was not criticizing California authorities per se, Allen says a national parole system that is already overloaded can't provide the sort of oversight required to adequately supervise 674,000 registered sex offenders. "What level of supervision and follow-up is being provided to those offenders?" he asks.

Dugard's case is likely to spur interest in unsolved abductions elsewhere, say advocates for missing children.

"We have several thousand of these long-term cases where children have been missing for more than two years," says Allen. The so-called "cold case" unit of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has helped resolve about 380 such cases, but most have been closed after the victim has died.

Only about a dozen kidnap victims held for long periods are believed to have returned alive.

"She's alive, and she becomes a symbol of hope for so many searching families," Allen says.

Dugard case gives other parents hope. Jaycee was held 18 years and abused by her captor. But families with missing children see a silver lining: 'Don't give up.'

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