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The Grio

10 Things You Can Do To Help Find Missing and Exploited Children

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When I was in high school, my best friend and I were on our way to the drug store we both worked at and traveling on our usual path that requires us to cut through the parking lot of a shopping center.  As we strolled, we passed by a parked car sitting alone in the back lot and in the broad daylight, we saw a girl who looked like she was 8 or 9 giving fellatio to a grown man.

We were shocked and paused. The guy was in the driver’s seat with his seat pulled back and it looked like there was another young girl in the back seat.

When the girl saw that we were aware of what was going on, she looked up frightened and startled. She stopped and pressed her hands and face against the glass. We didn’t know what to do. Between the two of us we memorized the license plates of the car and made our way to work.

When we got to the store, we were still hesitant and unsure of what to do because we just weren’t sure what we saw. After  discussing it more with other clerks for a few minutes, we called the police. The officers that came questioned our story.

“How do you know it was a child? It could have been a teen who has a baby face. How do you know it wasn’t consensual?” they asked. My friend and were dumbfounded but the questions made us start to doubt ourselves. Were we wrong to call the police?

Finally, the officers drove over to the parking lot to see if the vehicle was still there but it was not.

This all happened before Amber alerts and stuff like that so I am not sure the cops did anything more to flag the car of if they just dismissed it as deviancy, juvenile delinquency or whatever, but I doubt there wasn’t much concern to find those girls. This all happened in Maryland, and the DC, Maryland and Virginia area has long been a haven for sex traffickers. In fact, there is a Department of Justice task force dedicated to this geographical area.

And the cavalier and seemingly unconcerned attitude of the officers reflect old policy regarding runaways, exploited and sexual trafficked girls back then.

I’m glad there is a new effort to find kids that are reported missing, even runaways because they are most vulnerable to child predators. When I was child myself, three grown men exposed their private parts to me as I walked to the store, commuted on a rail train or was walking to a bus stop from school. I never told my parents but my experiences tell me that runaways especially are susceptible to be found by one of the many perverts running loose, on the hunt for children to exploit.

I posted my experience on Facebook recently, tagging my best friend who then confessed that she always thinks about that young girl.  I do too. I also think of the other girl who I saw in the back seat, a very thin and emaciated with big black curly hair, pale white skin.

These days, there is a pandemic in many cities around the nation of missing girls, and in Washington, DC alone, there has been  501 cases of missing children in the first three months of the year and 37 girls have gone missing in the past few weeks. These cases have gotten little national attention despite the fact that there is a missing girl each day, practically, in the past few weeks. It is slowly getting national attention as  Essence, Teen Vogue and The Grio, and more recently the New York Daily News have reported on it.

Because most of the missing children are black and Latina perhaps,  black lawmakers in Congress have asked the Department of Justice to intervene.

When a child is listed as a runaway, they are not provided the same attention as one listed as being kidnapped or missing, The Grio’s , George Johnson pens in an opinion piece this week.  He notes that the media stops treating the girls with much urgency when they are listed as a runaway, leaving the families of the missing little support to find their loved ones.

It’s common to find people among the general population also being dismissive and saying, “well they just ran away.” But, so what?

Johnson writes that inaction “makes black and brown women easy targets for human sex trafficking, which correlates with the statistics showing that 40.4 percent of victims are black women in comparison to white women (26 percent).”

I believe that we parents, moms, dads, caregivers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends are all jointly responsible for keeping all of society’s children safe because they are one of our most vulnerable populations. Even a sassy teen who talks back, dresses provocatively and is sexually active is a child and can be exploited, and deserves being cared for.

As Johnson notes, we all know the names Natalie Holloway, Elizabeth Smart, Caylee Anthony, Jon Benet Ramsey as their cases are nationally known but the stories of missing children like Relisha Rudd in DC is not. I’m based in DC so I am well aware of Rudd’s story. It was a very big deal locally to discover this missing 8 year old who was last seen on surveillance camera walking with a janitor in the homeless shelter she lived in with her mom. He eventually committed suicide in a wooded area shortly after Rudd was reported missing and she has not been seen alive since despite months of searching.

Regardless of any perceived discrepancy, we, individually have an ability to do out part. Collectively, those individual efforts matter.

After what I witnessed as a teen, I want to empower more everyday people. We all can help locate missing and exploited children, if we keep our eyes and ears open and don’t shut our mouths when we see something wrong.

  1. Share a photo circulated by police and media when it comes across your social feed. The more eyes on the missing child, the higher the liklihood someone may see her and report it to authorities.

2. Be vigilante and study photos and description of girls posted. It only takes a few seconds of your time to look, even if you choose not to share.

  1. Keep the lights on your porch or the front of your home on at night.  If someone happens to escape an capture, they’ll run to a place with a light on in hopes the people inside are friendly and may help. Again, it’s all of our jobs to protect all of our children.
  2. If your Spidey senses start tingling and you happen to overhear any convo with a child and adult that you suspect may not be related or friendly to the child, watch for other signs of possible exploitation.

  3. When you pass a parked car, be vigilant and alert, look into back seats of vehicles in parking lots. Abusers won’t walk around with a victim in fear they’ll get caught. They’d leave them in the car. If my friend and I hadn’t coincidentally looked in the car as we walked by, we never would have seen what we saw.

  4. Take note of suspicious behavior, memorize distinguishable features of any suspected adult and mark down license plates numbers as this will be helpful for law enforcement officials. A tattoo, unique birthmark, odd article of clothing are better than general descriptors like  white male, tall, dark hair.

  5. An unkempt child with a decently dressed adult (male or female) may be neglected and/or abused. Be alert.

  6. A well dressed adult male with a young girl who may be inappropriately dressed could be a john and she may be forced into prostitution. Consider this when deciding if you will say something or report it.

  7. Don’t get less concerned when you learn the child is a runaway. So what? A runaway child deserves help too.

Sadly, some parents and caregivers are neglectful as well so calling the authorities on random people may not be cool, but as a friend said, it might be worth it if it means one child’s life might be saved.

Also, keep your eyes on your children in public places and if you have children who walk home from school or take public transportation to work, school or activities, reiterate safety rules to them almost daily. They may consider it nagging but your words ringing in their ears constantly works. They did for me. To this day, I still recall my parents’ advice

And social media and tips do work to help find missing kids. For example, 16-year old Michigan boy, Cody Page, was recently found thanks to social media.

A link to to an article on The Center for Missing and Exploited Children Facebook page states:

“Detectives with a cyber crimes unit traced him to the Morongo Basin area thanks to his Facebook use.

In a four-month period, Page used Facebook over 3 million times, Koski said. The cyber crimes unit determined that the provider of the Internet he used was HughesNet, and from that they narrowed down his computer to his father’s house on El Camino Road in Twentynine Palms. Local officials went to the house, but didn’t find Page.

Police began blanketing social media with photos of the 16-year-old, asking locals to keep an eye out. Since Monday, the center’s hotline received more 10 tips that narrowed down the search, Koski said.”

Page was a foster kid who ran away, it appears. “The preliminary investigation revealed Page was not the victim of a crime and did not require any type of medical attention.  His biological mother was found nearby and is cooperating with detectives.”

See, yes we can. Let’s do this people!

Hallmark’s Mahogany line of Father’s Day cards for Single Black Mothers stirs emotions…again

For this Father’s Day, the division of Hallmark that targets the African American audience, Mahogany, sold a line of cards targeting single black mothers, as it has since introducing it in 2011. This year, it is creating controversy again. 
No one can doubt that there is a market and some women who have to do twice as much work as a two-parent household may appreciate the sentiment.
After all 2 out of 3 African-American children live in homes where a father is not present, compared to 1 out of 3 nationally.  Pew Research Center data states that about 44% of black fathers were living apart from at least one child 18 years old or younger, citing data from 2008, compared to 35% of Hispanic fathers and 21% of white fathers.  An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 72 % of black American children rely on a single parent. 
It is a reality. Go to a drug store in an urban inner city neighborhood on Mother’s Day for a card and you’d be out of luck, but go there on Father’s Day and you’d find plenty left over to choose from so there is a market. Can you blame Mahogany?
Hallmark created its Mahogany line of cards in 1987 and  it has been a best seller for the company and a staple in stores since 1991. In defense to the outrage, a spokesperson for the company told The Grio in 2011 that the company has introduced Father’s day cards for moms and Mother’s Day card for dads at the request of people who have lost a parent who passed away. 
Hallmark’s card in its general line
“We were sent two styles of the Father’s Day cards for mothers, and we sold out almost immediately,” a store owner told The Grio about the demand. “In fact, they were all gone nearly two weeks before the holiday occurred, which is pretty good considering most people wait until last minute to buy gifts for their dad.”
 So what’s the big deal?
But some have said the initiative is an insult. Radio show host and award-winning journalist Wil LaVeist  wrote in Urban Faith.com on this issue a few years back, stating: 

Being a dedicated black father of three grown children who looks forward to this one day that celebrates what I willingly do every day, I find this offensive and even dangerous, particularly for the black community. By marketing ‘some love’ to single moms on Father’s Day, the role of dads is devalued, especially in a community that badly needs fathers to step up and be real parents. It’s also capitalizing on a self-inflicted wound. Society should be lifting men who are honoring their role.

Valid point, and the study suggests that despite the absentee Black father stereotype, when the father is present and living in the home with his child, they provide a critical role and ARE indeed active. 
A national study released in December 2013 found that black fathers who live with their children are just as involved in parenting as other dads — or even more so. In the group studied by the National Center for Health Statistics, more black fathers reported reading to their children daily, feeding or eating meals with them daily and bathing or dressing them than Hispanic or white fathers.
But that’s just it, they have to be living in the home for it to count, but that also bolsters the suggestion that a father’s role is supplementary and complementary and not necessarily something that can be duplicated by mom. Mom can be a provider, a nurturer, and fix things that break around the home but she cannot be the same kind or level of disciplinarian a father can be neither show a son how to care for and be a partner to his future wife or treat women he dates later in life. A father can show, by example, his a daughter how to expect to be treated by a man and to demand only the best treatment. 
Some single moms and those who support them and are against single black mother shaming may see this issue as an attack on them and their choices, or circumstances created by absentee fathers who abandon the children they help create after no longer romantically involved with the mothers.  As an aside, some will also point to dysfunction among married couples or the high divorce rate. 
All fair in the debate, though La Veist’s point about the cards part being part of the normalization of single parenthood in the African American community  is a valid one as well. No doubt, if possible, a child is better served by having two sources of income to meet its needs, two sources to go to for homework help, two sources of accountability for health, security, consistent care and presence.
In an online discussion about this topic, one person asked if those passionate about this topic have a less visceral response to those who are single parents because of death of a spouse than because of a relationship that soured.

What do you think?

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