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Missing Children and the Power of Media

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It's the 30th anniversary of the disappearance of eight-year-old Etan Patz.

Etan Patz

Robin Sax: Twenty-five years ago, President Reagan designated May 25th as National Missing Children's Day, which evolved as a result of several high-profile cases that were covered in the media. Of particular note was the case of Etan Patz. Etan was an 8-year-old boy who disappeared on his way to school. What followed the disappearance was something that we now know -- community involvement and awareness brings about media attention, and media attention is the best way to get the word out to maximize the chances of a missing child coming home safely.

So often we are quick to blame the media for being unfair, prejudiced, disruptive, and all about sensationalism. But, for better or worse, the media is a powerful tool and a wonderful resource when dealing with protecting kids, finding perpetrators, and enlisting public support. Media attention in abduction cases is a necessity because DOJ statistics estimate that in 74% of child abduction cases, a child not found within three hours will be found dead. This means that acting quickly is not a LUXURY but a NECESSITY.

While the media may seem intrusive, the power of it is immense. The media can do what an individual can in no way accomplish on his or her own in a short period of time. The media can broadcast the image and circumstances surrounding a child's disappearance to more people with 30 seconds on the evening news than a parent will reach by nailing flyers to telephone poles for a hundred years.

As Marc Klaas, founder of KlaasKids Foundation and BeyondMissing, Inc., states, "Some missing child cases are not quickly resolved and may continue for weeks, months, years, or sadly, never get resolved at all. In order to stimulate a decisive, effective long-term investigation, you need proactive public support. If the community is allowed to forget and the case is filed in faded memory, law enforcement can scale back their efforts and the likelihood of a successful recovery diminishes significantly."

The most effective way of acquiring and maintaining support is by investing the public in your child's welfare. Radio, television, newspapers, blogs, and social networking sites offer the best opportunity to humanize a child, create outrage, buzz, concern, and community, which will then emotionally link society to the outcome of the investigation.

As you read this, I know what you are thinking ... how do I get media attention? How do I get people to care? Besides enlisting people who have strategic alliances with media outlets, sending out press releases, and begging friends to make calls, I encourage people to contact Justice Interrupted. Justice Interrupted is an advocacy website with Stacy Dittrich (police officer and violence advocate), Susan Murphy Milano, and me: Robin Sax (the prosecutor). The Justice Interrupted team highlights cases that have not received the media attention they deserve, advocate for victim's rights and appropriate sentences, and enlist their listeners to participate by blogging, writing, talking, and searching in order to insure that justice prevails. Besides raising public awareness, the team uses connections, contacts, and the collective voice to force the people in the system to do the right thing.

To me, National Missing Children's Day is just another date to remind us of something we should already be doing -- empowering, listening, and honoring our children. But, if the worst does happen, open your mouths and computers and get the word out!!!!

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Lisa R. Cohen May 25, 2009, 10:19 AM


This is such an important topic - thanks for crusading it. Today, the 30th anniversary of Etan’s disappearance, is also a time to note that the man found civilly responsible for Etan’s death sits today in a PA prison on another brutal child assault. When the prosecutor on the Patz case couldn’t get Jose Ramos for kidnapping, molesting and killing Etan, he did the next best thing - he got Ramos locked up for 20 years on other child rape charges. BUT Ramos just got 16 months shaved off his sentence and is due to max out now in 2012, unless one of two things happens - either a new NY DA - due in September - finally charges Ramos for Etan’s murder, or PA passes a new pending civil commitment law and holds onto Ramos past his max date. Etan’s father Stan and the former prosecutor who will never stop his pursuit of Ramos are determined to see either one of these options through. See for info on the case in my just released book AFTER ETAN: The Missing Child Case That Held America Captive, the first book ever written in 30 years, with new evidence never made public before. Watch ABC News 20/20 this Friday for more of hte story.

Maeby May 25, 2009, 1:32 PM

thanks a lot for this info guys.

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