'Damsels in Distress'
Pasqualini said citizens and the media are more savvy about abductions today, 15 years after a near national panic over a misconception about the scope of missing children. Milk carton profiles and shocking—but misleading—statistics prompted tens of thousands of mothers and fathers to have their children fingerprinted, just in case their worst fears came to pass.
She emphasized that citizens should use reasonable caution.
"You don't want people to become complacent because there is danger out there," said Pasqualini, whose interest in her work dates to her own attempted abduction when she was 8. "Just walking to your car in a Wal-Mart parking lot, you could be in danger of something happening."
On the other hand, she said, victims' advocates and the media would present a more rational portrait of missing persons by adding context to reporting on individual cases, such as the disappearance of Behl in Richmond or Alabama student Natalee Holloway in Aruba.
Pasqualini said the media tends to focus on "damsels in distress"—typically, affluent young white women and teenagers.
The media's dilemma is that government research shows that victims of nonfamily abductions and stereotypical kidnappings are most at risk of injury, sexual assault or death. "Damsel" cases may be the exception, but they often are the most urgent.
"We'd like to see a little more diversity in reporting because we have cases that never make the front page of the local newspaper, let alone the national media," Pasqualini said. "All parents are going through the same thing, no matter how much attention their case gets."
Among those distressed parents are Bruce and Kellie Maitland, whose daughter Brianna disappeared in March 2004 near Montgomery, Vt.