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Through a content analysis, this study seeks to uncover the predominant narrative themes centered on gender and class that shaped mainstream U.S. newspaper coverage of child kidnappings from 2000-2003. The abductions that dominated news coverage were neither random nor representative cases; clear patterns emerged in the kidnappings that garnered the most media attention. Though statistically rare, the news media disproportionally covered stories of young Caucasian girls being snatched from their middle-to-upper class homes by male strangers, manufacturing a nationwide epidemic. Our analysis reveals how gender and class were used to construct vulnerable girl victims and predatory male perpetrators. News narratives organized kidnapping stories using frames of family values, community cohesion and patriotism, while also disproportionally exaggerating the “stranger danger” myth. We argue these kidnapping narratives of vulnerable violated girls and predatory male “othered” strangers reflect a post-9/11 America struggling from the cultural aftershocks of national crisis and economic uncertainty.

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