Abduction refers to the act of restraining, or carrying or leading someone away, especially if the purpose is to disrupt a relationship. Examples of abduction include those related to child custody disputes, in which a parent may abduct a child in order to keep the child away from the other parent. Abduction is commonly accomplished by luring, convincing, or persuading the child or individual away. To explore this concept, consider the following abduction definition.

Definition of Abduction


  1. The act of forcibly carrying or enticing someone away, especially for the purpose of interfering with a relationship, such as taking a child away from a parent.


1825-35     Latin abductus

What is Abduction

Abduction is the act of taking someone away against his or her will, by either carrying him away, or by convincing him to come away. The motivation for an abduction is typically to break up a familial relationship, such as taking a child away from his parents, and does not necessarily mean that the abducted individual was taken against his will. While many first think of child abduction as the main form of abduction, there are actually several instances in which adults can be abducted as well.

Difference Between Abduction and Kidnapping

The terms abduction and kidnapping are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference between the two. Abductions involve the criminal leading away of someone from his or her home, loved ones, or other situation, by persuasion or fraud, or sometimes through violence. An abduction is commonly a means of disrupting a family relationship, such as one parent taking a child away from the other parent in a divorce dispute. Even if child goes willingly with that parent, it is still considered an abduction because it is an unlawful interference between the child and the other parent.

Another example of the difference between abduction and kidnapping occurs when a stranger lures a child away – perhaps convincing the child to get into a car, or to go to the stranger’s home, without the parents’ knowledge or consent. In such a case, the child went willingly – at least initially.

Kidnapping, on the other hand, may have all of the elements of abduction, but in no case does the victim leave willingly. Kidnapping is the forcible taking away of someone against his will. This can be done for such purposes as seeking ransom or other financial gain, for political motivations, or for some other purpose.

In an abduction, more often than not, the victim is familiar with the abductor. This is why abductions are so common in custody disputes, because it is usually one parent taking the child away from the other parent. Kidnapping is more about making a profit, or fulfilling some sort of objective.

Child Abduction

Child abduction is the removal of a child from his or her parents, usually by persuasion, but sometimes by violent means. Children can either be abducted by strangers, or by their own parents. Child abduction is commonplace in custody battles, as one parent may take the child to a different state, for instance, in order to keep the child away from the other parent.

When a parent abducts a child, it is usually either while a divorce is going on, or after the divorce has been finalized, and a child custody order issued. The abductor abducts the child in defiance of the custody order established by the Court.

Runaways are often abducted as well. When a child willingly leaves his or her family, it is incredibly easy for abductors to pick them up off of the streets, as they are vulnerable and unsure of how to survive on their own. A stranger who offers to help, appearing to “understand,” can lure away minors willingly.

Child Abduction Statistics

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports child abduction statistics, and admits that there can never be a confirmed number of children that go missing in the United States each year. When a child is reported missing, however, federal law requires that the child be entered into a database maintained by the FBI, called the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). These child abduction statistics are made available to the general public.

According to the FBI, there were more than 460,000 missing children listed on the registry in 2015, though separate incidents involving the same child (including multiple run-away incidents) are counted separately. This means that one child can be listed as missing 10 times in a single year, which will add 10 more entries to the NCIC’s annual total.

Below are some additional child abduction statistics with relation to the NCMEC:

  • From 1983 to 2015, the NCMEC received nearly 4.5 million calls about abducted and missing children on its toll-free hotline.
  • The NCMEC has helped law enforcement find nearly 230,000 abducted and missing children since its establishment in 1984.
  • In 2015, the NCMEC received nearly 4.5 million reports of children who were potentially abducted for the purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual abuse images, sex trafficking, and online “sextortion.”

Abduction Example in the Murder of a DEA Agent

In 1985, a Mexican physician, Humberto Alvarea-Machain, was believed to be involved in the kidnapping, torture, and eventual murder of an American DEA agent, Enrique Camarena Salazar. Machain was accused of having kept the agent alive so that he could be tortured and interrogated longer. Although the U.S. requested that Machain be extradited to stand trial for the agent’s murder, the Mexican government refused.

In April of 1990, DEA agents hired a private citizen of the U.S. to go to Mexico, abduct Machain, and bring him to the U.S., where he was arrested and indicted for his suspected role in the kidnapping and murder of Agent Salazar, as well as the murder of the agent’s pilot. At trial in the federal district court, Machain’s lawyer focused intensely on the fact that his client had been abducted, and forcibly returned to the U.S., claiming that his arrest was unlawful. Because of this, Machain was acquitted.

While the government appealed, the appellate court agreed that, because the Mexican had formally protested the extradition, and the plaintiff had been abducted to stand trial, the U.S. had no jurisdiction over him. The Court ordered that Machain be returned to his home country.

The case was then heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which took up the question of whether the abduction violated the U.S./Mexico extradition treaty, and therefore automatically barred the U.S. from having jurisdiction over the accused. The Court determined that the existence of an extradition treaty does not prohibit the obtaining of a suspect through another means – for example, through abduction, nor does it preclude prosecution. Because the extradition treaty does not prohibit such an abduction, it is not illegal. The Court reversed the trial court’s acquittal.

Despite the U.S.’s efforts, Alvarez-Machain was never convicted for the DEA agent’s murder. He was tried in 1993 in Los Angeles, but the trial judge dismissed the case due to a lack of evidence, having never sent the case to the jury. In the Judge’s decision, he alluded to his belief that the case should have never been brought to trial in the first place.

Other Types of Abduction

Although abduction is defined here as the luring or taking away of a person by enticing or persuading, there are acts of kidnapping or violence that are considered “abduction” in countries outside the U.S. Two examples include marriage by abduction, and express kidnapping.

Marriage by Abduction

Marriage by abduction refers to any situation wherein a bride is abducted against her parents’ wishes, no matter whether or not she actually wants to marry her abductor. While this is a fairly common tradition in some third-world countries, most countries consider marriage by abduction more of a sex crime than a legitimate marriage. Others see marriage by abduction as just another form of arranged marriage.

Express Kidnapping

Express kidnapping is a type of abduction wherein the abductor will demand ransom money before returning the victim to his parents or loved ones. “Express” kidnapping gets its name from the speediness of the transaction. The abductor uses it as a kind of “get rich quick” scheme by requesting only a small amount of money for the ransom knowing that those close to the victim will easily be able to pay it, and quickly.

This kind of abduction is also known as a “stranger kidnapping,” which is one of the rarer abductions wherein the criminal does not know the victim at all. If the victim is female, then the abductor’s motive is usually one involving a sexual assault. If the victim is male, then the abductor will usually hold the victim hostage in order to commit a robbery.

An example of abduction that was an express or “quickie” abduction occurred in Caracas, Venezuela, in December of 2014. Here, a college student and her boyfriend were both abducted in two separate cars as they tried to leave a party. The abductors negotiated with the student’s parents while driving around with her in the car for about two hours, and after a ransom amount was agreed upon and paid, the student and her boyfriend were freed. The car never even left the city.

Express abductions differ from classic abductions, the latter of which typically involves a more detailed plan, rather than being spontaneous. Additionally, in a classic abduction, the abductor will demand a larger sum of money and will target wealthier people in order to get it.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Extradition – The transfer of a suspected criminal from his home country to the country wherein the crime was allegedly committed.
  • Sextortion – The act of sending sexually explicit photographs or videos over the internet, and then demanding money from the recipient under the threat of distributing the material further