Want to keep black kids from running away from home? Stop hitting them.

By Stacey Patton

Apr 10, 2017 | Feature | 0 comments

Last month, a rumor that more than 500 mostly black and Latino children from the District of Columbia had been abducted and sold into sex slavery went viral on social media. A new decision by D.C. police to alert the public whenever children were reported missing had backfired; most of the kids had been found safe within 24 hours, but those updates never spread as far as the initial reports. Worried people, from the Congressional Black Caucus to LL Cool J, raised alarms over what looked like a sudden epidemic that was being ignored in ways that would be unimaginable with white children.

Hoping to quell the outrage, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser assured the public that there has been no surge of missing kids. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t children that need our help,” she said March 24 as she unveiled plans to create a task force to work with vulnerable teenagers.

Hundreds of children of color have been reported missing in D.C. at some point since January, but those numbers aren’t higher than usual. The police say 2,242 children were reported missing in 2016, down from 2,433 in 2015. Virtually all of them were found unharmed within 24 hours; in many cases the children, who showed no evidence of being exploited by sex traffickers, had repeatedly run away from home, according to a spokesman for the mayor.

Which means many children do indeed need our help — and we need to pay more attention to the home lives that they might be running away from.

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