Thankfully, viral social media posts have brought the plight of missing black girls in Washington, D.C. to the national spotlight. These posts initially claimed that 14 girls had gone missing in just 24 hours — which made it seem like there was an alarming new trend starting in the capital. This isn't accurate, but what is new is the attention — and that has spurred a very important conversation. But how many girls do go missing in D.C. each year? The number of juveniles is actually in the thousands.
After the social media posts went viral, the Metro D.C. police tried to play damage control. Commander Chanel Dickerson, in charge of the Youth and Family Division, explained to the press that there hasn't been an explosion of cases. "Without minimizing the number of missing persons in DC — because one missing person is one person too many — but there's actually been a decrease," Dickerson said at a press conference.
The police also released statistics to prove this. The numbers aren't broken down by gender, but they are segregated by age, and the number of juveniles that were reported missing in 2016 was 2,242 — down slightly from 2015 but about on par with 2014. So, looking at recent years, the total number of juveniles who are reported missing is usually about 2,000 to 2,600. Again, the percentage of those who are girls was not released.
That sounds like a huge number, but, luckily, most of those cases are solved. All but three of those children from 2016 have been found. There's also one open case from 2014. Those are the only four cases that weren't solved from 2012 to 2016. There are, however, more that remain unsolved this year. There are 14 open juvenile cases from this year from a total of 527 reported missing. The rest have all been found.
The other thing to figure out is the racial component to the coverage of these missing children. Some politicians have pointed to the lack of Amber Alerts as an issue — essentially that if white children went missing more resources would be dispatched to find them. The police contend that's not the case; that they're mostly runaways. There are set national criteria to call for such an alert, and these cases, they say, didn't meet it.
That said, there may need to be another look at the way we look at runaways. There may be a very good reason that they go, and the government needs to be involved to solving that too. Robert Lowery, vice president at The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, explained why to CNN:
The natural inclination (about a runaway) is the child's behavioral problem is why they've left. We also see significant numbers of runaway children who are running away from a situation, whether it's abuse or neglect or sexual abuse in the home. These children face unique risks when they're gone so we applaud the conversation and we applaud the attention that this issue is being given.
Of all the lessons to learn from this controversy, one of the most vital may be that more does need to be done to find missing children and combat the reasons why some run away in the first place.