As a father of four girls, there are few crimes that shock and appall me as much as the kidnapping of a child. Kidnapping is reprehensible for a number of reasons: the innocence and helplessness of the victims, the pain and confusion a loving parent feels when they don’t know where their child is, and the unsettling realization that such an awful crime can take place in our communities.
While many people picture the perpetrators of this crime as strangers, the reality is much more difficult to reconcile. In fact, the vast majority of abducted children are taken by a family member. There are more than 200,000 cases of children abducted by a parent or relative every year. Whether the motivation stems from a custody dispute or revenge against an ex-spouse, kidnapping a child is a serious crime that tears families apart.
The psychological and emotional damage inflicted on a child in these cases can be devastating. Abducted children often are moved from city to city and prohibited from going to school or participating in youth activities due to a fear by the perpetrator of being caught. Many of these children are told that the parent they are separated from is dead or no longer wants them. Statistics show that an abducted child is at higher risk for physical abuse, and some psychologists believe that family abduction is one of the most devastating forms of child abuse.
Law enforcement does admirable work to track down the perpetrators of these crimes. But with tens of thousands of cases a year, resources are stretched thin. That’s why it’s critical that law enforcement agencies have every tool at their disposal to effectively investigate and solve these crimes.
Research shows that one additional tool in particular would potentially solve thousands of cases. In a significant amount of child abductions, the perpetrator will file a tax return using the abducted child’s Social Security number, providing a current address and a potentially case-breaking discovery. It may lead law enforcement directly to the front door of the kidnapper and the child. In fact, one report found that as many as 46 percent of these cases could be solved if law enforcement had access to this information.
While this type of critical tax information can be used to solve other serious crimes, current law doesn’t allow investigators to access federal tax records to help find an abducted child. Without such a valuable tool, it can be very difficult for law enforcement to solve abduction cases where the suspects have left the area and have taken action to conceal their new location.
I’m authoring legislation, the Recovering Missing Children Act, to allow investigators to access this critical information and reunite families. The bipartisan bill simply includes missing-children cases as an acceptable instance when law enforcement can work with the IRS to secure tax information crucial to solving a crime.
Access to this information is critical, but important safeguards also must be established to ensure that taxpayer information is not put at risk. That’s why the bill requires law enforcement to first obtain a federal court order to access tax information, and they may view only documents related to the case. In addition, only members of law enforcement actively working on the case would be able to access the tax information.
This initiative could make all the difference in finding missing children and reuniting them with their families, and that’s why it has the support of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children along with law enforcement organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police, the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the National Association of Police Officers and the Major County Sheriffs Association. With abductions occurring daily, it’s urgent that our laws be updated to reflect the current nature of child abduction and to give investigators the tools they need to crack the case and bring a missing child home.
Erik Paulsen, a Republican, represents Minnesota’s Third District in the U.S. House.