Missing Children: How “Cause-Related Marketing” Fuels the Scandal
by John Edward Gill
Geraldo Rivera was happy· .
He had John Walsh , host· of FOX-TV’s “America’s Most Wanted , ” on his show· promoting telephone credit· cards with pictures of missing children on them . A local missingchild· group· in Florida organized that program· and its director was with Walsh .
“I can’t tell· you how much I admire them , ” Geraldo said of Walsh and his companion . “I thank· these two· guys who are helping us make· our children safer . ”
He then gave out names and addresses of several local missingchild· groups and complemented a national· group· based in Alexandria , Virginia . Of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (National Center) , he said , “I love· these guys , too . ”
Earlier in his show· , aired during August , 1997 , he mentioned the telephone company· making such cards and the oilcompany· which sold them through its gas· stations .He didn’tmention· that such cards don’t find· missing children , though. They have· a child’s small· , postage· stamp-sized picture· on them and , just like on postcards , these pictures are outdated·and hard· to read· .
Also , he didn’t mention· that the National Center and approximately 35 other similar agencies are not law·enforcement· agencies and don’t look· for missing children .
Such cards are part· of that National Center’s “cause-related marketing” campaign , a promotional program· designed toraise· private funds· . With seminars in its Alexandria office· , that National Center presents companies with useless child·identification programs that receive· much publicity· , but don’t find· children . These programs include· fingerprinting , videotaping , DNA fingerprinting , and pictures of children on milk cartons , utility company· bills , highway billboards , grocery bags , electronic bulletin boards , and now phone·credit· cards .
Fingerprints dont help· you locate· the child· , said Jim Green ,crime· prevention· officer· of the Lees Summit , Missouri , police department . All they can do· is be· used to identify· thechild· .
Yet such programs produce· contributions from those corporations to the National Center .
“‘Cause-related marketing’ is the National Center’s main·program· , not finding children , ” said Nikki Abbott , founder of Services for the Missing , in Gibbsboro , New Jersey . “They don’t look· for children . They look· for money· . ” Abbott founded her group· in the early 1980 s .
Funded with eight million dollars annually from the U . S . Justice Department and about the same amount· from private corporations , the National Center does not send· search· andrescue· teams into the field· to look· for children .
Newspaper reporters and law· enforcement· officials confirm·that local and state· police and F . B . I . agents actually look·for abducted or lost children . They have· trained personnel·with bloodhounds , helicopters , infra-red sensors , nightvision· (or “starlight”) scopes , four-wheel drive· vehicles , boats , maps , etc . , which the National Center doesn’t have· .
Even some of the National Center’s own officials concede· that local law· enforcement· handles missing child· cases . When learning from police about a missing child· , “the case·manager assigned to the case· continues to follow· NCMEC’sstandard· operating proceduresuntil informed by law·enforcement· as to the resolution· of the case·, ” said Ruben Rodriguez , head· of the National Center’s Informational Analysis Unit .
He didnt say· what those operating procedures were .
Other officials concur· .
“We don’t do· investigation· , “said Ben Ermini , director ofcase· management· for the National Center .“We don’t go· into it as thoroughly as the local authorities· . “
“NCMEC (National Center) is dependent· on law·enforcement· and parents to let· us know· about a recovery/location (of a missing child), said John Rabun, vice president of the National Center.
And on that same Geraldo show· , Geraldo asked Ms . Gay Le-Clerc , New York Director of the National Center , What can a parent do· (when a child· is missing) ?
We want· them to call· police first· , 911 , she said .
So, despite claims that it has found more than 47,000 children since 1984, the National Center hasn’t recovered onechild· .
“They just call· the NCIC (National Crime Information Center ,run· by the F . B . I . ) and state· police to find· out who is gone and who has come· home· , ” Abbott continued . “Then theyissue· ‘recovery’ reports based on what law· enforcement· tells them . ”
Conservative philosophy· of the Reagan administration·encouraged the National Center to use· private enterprise , not police , to seemingly find· children . Corporate executives soon joined its Board of Directors , with the National Center holding those “cause-related marketing” seminars to teach· businesses how to make· money· from child· tragedies .
“The National Center has worked closely with hundreds ofcorporate· partners throughout the country· to help· us in our efforts to assist· the families of missing and exploited children , ” said Ernie Allen , president of that National Center , in its January , 1990 , edition of his newsletter ,At The Center. “Corporate partners have· made significant· monetary·contributions , distributed photographs of missing children , disseminated safety· tips , and implemented cause-related marketing campaigns to bring· greater public awareness· to these important· issues . ”
Such “marketing” actually began immediately after the National Center opened in May , 1984 . By June , 1985 , it had a commitment· from Dole Packaged Foods to mail two· pages of advertising inserts with coupons to over forty-three million households in America during the week· of September 15 , 1985 .
President Reagan’s picture· was on top of one page; four coupons were at the bottom· . Citizens were asked to buy·Dole’s products , send· in those coupons , and receive· up to $ 1.60 worth of coupons for other Dole Products .
“Help us find· our missing children , ” the President
was quoted as saying , next· to his picture· . Dole then proclaimed: “President Reagan is voicing the plea of thousands of Americans who want· to stop· the growingepidemic· of missing and exploited children . Now , you canjoin· Dole and respond· to this call· for help· . ”
Headlines for the ad· read· “Support the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with Dole . ” In smaller print was the sales copy: “Bring in Dole coupons, and Help Bring Missing Children Home. ” It released a statement· from the President , on White House stationery , dated July 10 th , 1985 . “I am proud· to recognize· and commend Dole Food Company’s efforts on behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children , ” Reagan said .
An advertising executive for this promotion· invited local missing children agencies to join· local supermarkets in “Color Safety Photo Day” sessions in their stores to photograph·children .
Through its newsletters , first· calledAt The Center and nowFrontline, there are lists of new members to the Corporate Partnership Roll , businesses who gave money· or services and received publicity· and/or pictures of missing children to help·sell· their products .
On the front· page of its newsletter in April , 1987 , forinstance· , there was a picture· of then-Vice President George Bush with officials from both the National Center and Worlds of Wonder (WOW) , a toy· distributor .
Next to Bush was Donald Kingsborough , CEO of WOW , who held Teddy Ruxpin , a teddy· bear· who was the official·“spokesbear” of the National Center . Ruxpin was mentioned in the photo· caption· , and it’d been given to various· speakers and politicians at two· national· conventions on missing children held in Chicago in 1986 and 1987 . The National Center claimed WOW “is our largest corporate· contributor , helping us provide· the Center’s vital services at no charge· to families . ”
Such free· “vital services” weren’t explained .
However, in its October 31, 1988, edition, Business Weekreported that Teddy Ruxpin was made in mainland China by 12 -year-old girls working 14 hours· a day while earning between ten dollars and 31 dollars a month. Working at their sewing machines seven days a week· , the girls were ordered toput· in one or two· 24 -hour shifts each month , with only two·meal· breaks a day .
Kadar Enterprises Ltd , the manufacturer , set the work· rules and World of Wonder washed its hands· of the labor·conditions . Because Kadar is a subcontractor , “You don’thave· much to say· , ” said John A . McCarthy , operations vice president of WOW , in San Francisco . “If you get· into the middle of their business· , they’re offended . ”
Teddy Ruxpin bears sold for about 60 dollars each in America.
Sometimes the girls slept two· or three· to a bed in a factory dormitory , which was in Shekou , China , about 50 minutes byhydrofoil· from Hong Kong .Business Week, in its article·headlined , “Long , Hard Days — At Pennies An Hour , ” said that workers could be· blacklisted and fired if they didn’t work·overtime . Written by Dinah Lee and Rose Brady , the article·also said Kadar made Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls for WOW .
“We can work· these girls all day and all night , while in Hong Kong it would be· impossible , ” said a Kadar executive on the Shekou shop floor· . “We couldn’t get· this kind· of labor· , even if we were willing to meet· Hong Kong wage levels . ”
President Reagan gave Worlds of Wonder a 1987 Presidential Award for Private Sector Initiatives . That company· also received a commendation· from the President’s Child Safety partnership “in recognition· of outstanding· contributions to the safety· of America’s children . ”
They quickly became the National Center To Exploit Missing Children, said Abbott.
Formally introduced in the January, 1990, edition of At The Center, “cause-related marketing” dominated most of the stories published in that issue· . The front· page featured apicture· of the public relations director of a New England-based security· and alarm· company· . Julia Cartwright , the Center’s media director , stood next· to him . A story· said that since 1985 that company· had distributed pictures of children and that its public relations person· was the first· executive “loaned” to the National Center as part· of its “Executive Loan Program . ”
His duties were not explained though.
“One of the features of our cooperative· effort· (with corporations) will be· a monthly all-day presentation· at our headquarters structured for corporate· executives , staff· , and others to come· and learn· about the Center , its mission , the benefits and how to’s of cause-related marketing . . . , ” that newsletter said .
Four months later the National Center promoted those seminars again with another full· page in its newsletter , asking companies and citizens to join· its Child Seekers Network , for a donation· of $ 25 or more . There was a coupon to cut· out and mail to its offices , but no specific details on what this Network did other than urging members to hold·their own “cause-related marketing” seminars for their companies and communities.
That coupon didsay· , however , that the National Center was chartered to protect· children from victimizationoutside the family.
That New England company· organized a Child Seekers Week in May , 1990 , to raise· money· for the National Center . Teddy Ruxpin , two· years· after thatBusiness Weekarticle· , was displayed in many of its stores .
That same newsletter , dated May , 1990 , introduced parents to DNA blood· “fingerprinting” as a means of identifying their children . Called “Birth Mark , ” such a DNA blood· sample could provide· “valuable information on child· identification . ” Under a headline , “National Center Recommends Use of `Birth Mark’ as Child Identification Tool , an article·mentioned a Maryland medical laboratory which sold such aprocess· to hospitals and pediatricians . There was a picture· of that laboratory’s director and a notice that it made in-kind contributions to the National Center .
“For information on how to order· this product· (a DNA blood·sample) for your child· , please· contact· the National Center’s Development and Education Division , ” that newsletter said .
Officials at the National Center would not say· why they advertised private products with government· money· .
Always mindful of publicity· about missing children , and not wanting to miss opportunities for “cause-related marketing , ” the National Center sometimes promotes cases where children were not missing , but perished from child· abuse· , accidents ,date· rape and homicide , or from other causes .
For instance· , Christina Holt , 7 , was reported abducted by a stranger on October 22 , 1994 , in Fort Lauderdale , Florida . Three days later Walsh and film· crews from “America’s Most Wanted” came down , despite suspicions from local police that the little· girl· was killed at home· by her parents .
“It drives me crazy· when police and the media speculate·about what might have· happened , ” Walsh said . “The girl· is missing and that’s all that matters to me . ”
A day later police found samples of the child’s blood· in the family home· and charged her stepfather and mother withmurder· . A jury convicted her mother of murder· on April 11 , 1995 , and another jury , in a separate trial· , found her husband guilty of murder· in December 1996 . Both were sent to jail for life· .
In a brash act· of such “marketing , ” the National Center dedicated an electronic bulletin board· , or kiosk· , with videos of missing children to little· Christina .
“Today is exactly one year since Christina Holt was reported missing and found murdered , ” said Nancy McBride , head· of the Adam Walsh Center , which is now part· of the National Center . “I believe· Christina Holt was looking for a safe place·in this world . It seems in her short· life· she didn’t find· one . ” She made her remarks at a press conference· dedicating thatkiosk· .
Geraldo Rivera never asked Walsh how a fatal tragedy· ofchild· abuse· in the home· could be· called a “lost child” case· .
And no reporters asked how a child· abuse· victim’s name·could be· used on that “missing” child· information center· , erected in a Florida airport .
In its report· to the U . S . Department of Health and Human Services in April 1995 , the U . S . Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect mentioned Christina Holt as a child· “who died at the hands· of parents or caretakers .
But that press conference· yielded nice· results for the National Center . News stories about the kiosk· mentioned Walsh , his television show· , the National Center , IBM , which donated some of the equipment· , and said another private company·had donated money· for that project· .
Using child· tragedies for publicity· and profit· has always been one of Walsh’s priorities since he helped found the National Center . In January 1986 , for instance· , Lindsay Blake Householder , two-weeks-old , supposedly vanished from Winchester , Virginia . Her mother claimed stranger abduction , so Walsh and his National Center became interested because the case· had generated publicity· .
Three weeks later her mother confessed to killing the child·and police recovered tiny· Lindsay’s remains . Her mother eventually went to jail .
But , in one of its first· acts of “cause-related marketing , ” a monthafterher mother’s confession and the finding of her child’s remains , Lindsay Blake Householder’s picture·appeared in aMissing Children Bulletin published by the Illinois State Police.
That Bulletingave the National Center’s phone· number· , telling anyone who had seen Lindsay to contact· Walsh andcompany· . “Cause-related marketing” and the publicity· it produces has caused some child· care· experts to oppose· such programs as scaring children needlessly and misrepresenting the missing children problem· .
On May 7 , 1986 , for instance· ,The Wall Street Journalpublished an editorial entitled Where Are The Children?
Much of the responsibility· for public misperception of the missing children problem· goes to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children . . . . In 1984 , the Center proclaimed that 50 , 000 children were being abducted every year . That figure· was cited and recited thereafter .
Having stoked the present missing children mania· , the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is not doing as much as it should to calm· the fears it raised . No one would argue· that parents shouldnt be· informed of threats to their children ,but such information should not be·sensationalized merely to stir· up public interest·.
Individual child· care· experts had begun to speak· out also .
On Friday , April 11 , 1986 , the “Today” show· featured thelate· Dr . Lee Salk , questioning how many children were gone and saying he felt fingerprints didn’t bring· home· children .
This show· aired when a national· group· of shopping centers held a weeklong campaign to fingerprint children .
“Fingerprinting of kids , ” Bryant Gumbel , the show’s host· , said . “It’s happening at your local shopping center· . Ourquestion· is , is it worthwhile or is it just frightening· yourchild· ?
“Joining us this morning is John Walsh . In 1981 , Mr . Walshs six-year-old son Adam was abducted from a shopping center;two· weeks later Adam’s dead· body· was found . Since then , Mr . Walsh has founded the Adam Walsh research· center· , which aids the parents of missing children .
“Also joining us this morning is Dr . Lee Salk . Dr . Salk is professor of psychology at the New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center and has some problems with the fingerprintingeffort· . . . . Dr . Salk . . . what’s wrong· with it ? ”
“First of all , the statistics· do· not justify· all the fear· andanxiety· . What concerns me about this is that the vast numbers that are presented to people· on missing children are guesstimates , at best; nobody· really has accurate· statistics· , ” Dr . Salk told him .
“Because we group· runaways in that also ? ” Gumbel asked .
“Yes , ” answered Dr . Salk . “Because , you see· , parentsbelieve· that their children are about to be· abducted if theywalk· out of the house· . The facts are that there were less than 100 children who were reported legitimately — if I can use· theexpression· — kidnapped .
“The rest· are children who have· run· away from home· . Themajority· of missing children , 90 to 95 percent of them , are runaways . And some of them are abducted during custody battles in an attempt· to gain· children . . . .
“But you see· , the anxiety· that pervades this country· about this , I think· , is creating , putting children in an atmosphere·of violence; they’re deeply concerned about the violence . AndI cannot tell· you how many parents have· called me up in recent weeks telling me their children are waking up in the middle of the night screaming because they dream· of seeing theirpicture· on the side· of a milk container·.”
Gumbel spoke of fingerprinting and Walsh admitted it didn’tprevent· abductions. “It’s a means of identification , if thechild· is found alive· primarily , ” Walsh told him .
Dr . Salk then mentioned a study· by the American College of Pathologists which found only 68 unidentified bodies ofpeople· under the age· of 18 in 1983 .
Gumbel didn’t ask· Walsh wherehisfigures came from when Walsh had said in the past· there were thousands of unidentified bodies of children buried each year . Gumbeldidask· Dr . Salk about shopping centers and theirsafety· programs . “Are parents being misinformed about what’s going on at these shopping centers ? ” Gumbel asked .
“Yes, absolutely,” Dr. Salk said.
“Suspicious of the motives?” Gumbel asked.
“Well , I don’t think· anybody could question· that sort· of thing . I’d love· to see· if they would be· willing to take· ten percent of their profits· for the week· and give· it to services that help· children .
I’m concerned with the overall effect· this has on our nation’s population , ” Dr . Salk answered . “I see· myself as anadvocate· of children and I’m deeply concerned about the fact·that parents are in a state· of panic . And this panic is reflected in their relationship· with their children . ”
“But in this case· , isn’t fingerprinting a bit· like chicken· soup·— I mean· , it couldn’t hurt ? ” Gumbel asked him .
“Well , I think· itcanhurt , because it puts children in anatmosphere· where violence is really surrounding them . We really frighten· them with something that does not exist· , ” Dr . Salk said .
And the late· Dr . Benjamin Spock agreed .
“The current rage· for fingerprinting is ridiculous· , ” said theauthor· ofBaby and Child Care, among other books about children . “You’re going to scare· the bejeebers out of ten million children and I’ve seen no evidence· that it works . A kidnapper doesn’t say· to a child· , `Have you been fingerprinted ? ‘”
Dr . Spock came out against fingerprinting of children , public displays of missing children , and inflated figures on child·abduction , all of which could scare· children , he said . He also felt that seeing so many pictures of missing children in public could have· a negative effect· on the imagination· of a child· .
“I just don’t think· that fingerprinting will help· very much torecover· children and I think· that it’s more likely to scare·children and I am against it , ” he said .
He pointed out that such fingerprinting and related publicity·on missing children could hurt children in safe families , where there is no threat· of parental· abduction .
“Children have· very morbid· imaginations and they can be·upset by all kinds of things that are not real· threats to them at all , ” Dr . Spock explained . “I think· a study· was made years·ago of what children thought about tonsillectomy . . . . Onechild· I remember· thought that the surgeon slit· the throat from ear-to-ear , tipped the head· back and reached down into the throat to remove· the tonsils . This is a pretty awesome·picture· that no adult· would possibly imagine· and no parent would think· that this is what’s in the back of a child’s mind· . ”
Dr . Spock gave another example· of a child’s active·imagination· , this time· about a young· boy who was moved from one ward of a hospital· to another ward . “He worried himself sick· because he thought his parents wouldn’t be· able to find· him because they left him in one ward and he pictured them coming back , looking for him there , and then , after searching around , going home· because they didn’t know·where he was , ” he said .
“Again , parents would never think· of this as one of the things children’s morbid· imaginations can pick· up , ” he continued . “But I think· that children reading about kidnappings and seeing pictures of missing children is going to work· on their imaginations even if they’re in a very healthy· family situation·. ”
In addition· , Dr . Spock felt that fingerprinting would nothelp· recover· teenagers who run· away from home· . “The onlygood· that fingerprinting will do· , that I see· , is to identify· achild· who has been murdered , ” he explained . “They say· that fingerprints deteriorate· very fast after death· . . . .”
Dr . Spock felt that policemen conducting fingerprinting programs could make· children “worrisome . ” To children , he pointed out , “Police are not their protectors . Police are thepeople· who punish· you , or punish· adults , or punish· otherpeople· when they have· done something wrong· . So I think·that it (fingerprinting) has the wrong· effect· on children . ”
Families and children could be· scared by inflated numbers of missing children , too , he claimed . “I think· that the numbers are very scary unless you know· that they’re highly inflated and that most of them aren’t true· disappearances . They aren’t killings . And they aren’t kidnappings . ”
Dr . Spock felt it would be· reassuring to parents to know· that the cases of children who really disappeared are very small·compared to the published figures . “I think· if they (government officials) are going to discuss· such figures at all they should put· out non-alarmist figures , ” he said .
Yet , “cause-related marketing” continues , with local civic·groups and non-profit agencies working with the National Center by offering child· identification days , videotaping , fingerprinting , and photographing children .
Florida hospitals now take· DNA samples of newborn children . Salt Lake County Sheriffs deputies recently provided child·identification kids with pictures , medical information and DNA samples for parents to use· with their children . Civic groups near Dallas , Texas , distributed fingerprinting kits to more than 5 , 000 children . A regional non-profit missingchild· group· in Canada even tookfootprintsof small· childrenlast· spring , while Parent-Teacher Associations around thecountry· still fingerprint children .
And a national· video rental chain has sponsored free·videotaping of children during August for the past· nine years·. Endorsed by the National Center , this program· taped youngsters , claiming such videos would come· in handy should children become· lost or abducted . That program·received much publicity· .
But no child· has been found through videotaping .
Walsh , a one-time lifeguard and sales executive for a Floridahotel· , once publicly called Dr . Spock “a self-promoter . ”
And , still ignoring criticism· , Walsh , along with several partners , recently promoted a company· selling DNA fingerprinting kits . Parents buy· a kit· with materials to take·samples from a child’s mouth· , send· them to that company· , and a medical laboratory then analyzes the samples toproduce· a DNA profile . The process· costs about 100 dollars . Newspapers carried stories of him publicizing such kits .
Also , hes received much press coverage for promoting a Victims Rights Amendment to the Constitution . It wouldallow· parents and relatives to witness· all legal· proceedings·against anyone accused of murdering their children .
Passing and ratifying such an amendment would take· years· , therefore giving it much press , Abbott said . But its onlygood·afterchildren are killed . How many police would it put·on the street· to look· for lost or abducted children ? And how many new runaway shelters would it finance ?