By: Dr. Phyllis Bivins-Hudson/ Richard L. Smith
Like all our calendar months, May is a time for another celebration—Mother's Day. So, to all the moms, I say happy Mother's Day and wish you many more.
But this month, we will focus on another severe issue in our community, country, and world. May 25 is National and International Missing Children's Day.
We will spend some time this month talking about abducted children because our children are coming up missing at alarming rates.
One day it's the child from the news. The next day, it's the child from around the block, but tomorrow it could be the child from your home.
So I'd like to spend our time together this month sharing information with you about missing children, hoping that it will benefit someone and bring awareness to this global issue.
Believe it, or not, a half million children go missing each year in the United States; thankfully, about 97.8% are found, according to a June 2021 report from Findthekids.org. In 2023 already, there are a total of 8,545 missing children in the United States, and we are not even halfway through 2023.
According to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, about 55 children are logged as missing by the agency.
In one of our NJ cases, yes, it's been almost three years since the abduction of a little girl from a suburban park in Bridgeton, New Jersey. Vanishes from existence in broad daylight, Dulce Maria Alavez has not been seen nor heard from since September 16, 2019.
According to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Dulce Alavez played with her younger brother during a family outing at Bridgeton City Park in southern New Jersey. Dulce's mother, Noema Alavez Perez, says she let the two of them run over to the playground while she stayed in her car with an 8-year-old cousin who was with them.
Her case remains an active and ongoing investigation by law enforcement in NJ and nationwide.
NCMEC said the ten states with the most missing children are California with 2,133 | Florida with 1252 | Texas with 1246 | Arkansas with 915 | Washington with 643 | New York with 606 | Michigan with 556 | Oregon with 432 | Pennsylvania with 401 | and Tennessee with 361.
According to The Committee for Missing Children, Inc., when most of us think of a missing child, we have this image of the child being abducted by someone who throws him/her into a van. Still, when a non-custodial parent takes a child without permission, that's considered by law a missing child.
This group has determined that most missing children result from abduction. Additionally, more than 3,000 attempted snatchings per year, more than 90% of which are runaways or parental abductions.
Let's address a few questions:
1. How are missing children found? There are some tools used for locating these missing children. For instance, banks, social media accounts, public cameras, and Amber are used. Ultimately, however, the more people out and about looking for the missing children, the more likely they will be discovered quickly.
One problem is with older children who go missing on their own. The danger is significantly less; however, the threat is not eradicated. Then when there is a hotly contested custody bat-on or a stranger abduction, there is the need to treat these with more urgency.
2. How do children go missing? Again according to The Committee for Missing Children, scarce rare for a stranger to take a child. Usually, a non-custodial parent or family member is the child's abductor.
And of ten, because they are real-time, they don't see this behavior as illegal, but it is absolutely unlawful. When these children have been found, especially after years or even decades of being in this situation, it is often difficult for them to assimilate back into their families.
3. How does one prevent parental adduction? The abduction of a child is one of a parent's most feared things. And when the clues are limited or absent altogether, the fear, dread, desperation, and anguish can be all-consuming and have been known to destroy families.
But there are some ways to reduce the time and opportunity that an abducting parent may have to carry out his/her abduction plan. According to Saved in America, these include:
- Have legal custody documents on hand and in order. Create backup copies and store them securely. This should be done if there appears to be a problem in the marriaOftenimes, the abducting parent may take the original copies of these documents when they flee.
- Have photos that can serve to identify the child. Make sure images are clear, crisp, and in good condition. Make copies and store them securely as well.
- Keep the dental and medical records of your child up to date.
- If you believe a parental abduction is likely, be wary of allowing your child to go to any location where the abducting parent knows the child will be vulnerable, like a mall or a favorite playground. Set boundaries where your child may not go if you feel it is a risk, and you are unable to supervise him/her in those locations.
- Make a priority of online safety. Parents should be aware of what their child is accessing online and ensure they are not sharing their location with the public. Would-be abductors can know what websites a child visits and use an anonymous profile to attempt to trick the child into going out unsupervised.
- If you believe the other parent may make false accusations against you, insist that you are never to be alone with him/her. Having witnesses to every interaction is critical in avoiding a false domestic abuse accusation. Without a witness, the police usually assume the accusation is true, arrest the accused, and hand the child over to the accuser.
- If your child goes to public school or daycare, is watched by a nanny, or is ever under the care of anyone other than you, make sure that the care provider understands you are the only one permitted to pick the child up during your period of shared custody.
The good news is that, ultimately, most children are found. However, that percentage of children not found should keep us all up at night. According to Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, these other children are not seen or heard from because they are black and brown. These children also go missing at a higher rate than white children. She says, here's why we don't hear about them:
- They do not receive the same amount of media attention. Data shows that missing white children receive far more media coverage than missing Black and brown children despite higher rates of missing children among communities of color.
- The FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database lists 424,066 missing children under 18 in 2018, which is the most recent year for which data is available. About 37% of those children are, Blacalthoughugh Black children only make up about 14% of all children in the United States.
- Their families are hesitant to call law enforcement because there's a sense of distrust between law enforcement and the minority communities. That distrust contributes to a "silent code of 'no snitching.".
- There is also that fear of unintended, negative consequences.
- There is also the issue of families not having the resources to afford a private investigation.
- Black children are often overrepresented in foster care and are at a much higher risk for homelessness.
- Law enforcement often classifies children of color as runaways without having all the details. Because they are considered to have voluntarily left, Amber alerts aren't sent out about them, and they typically aren't covered in the news.
- Families who are economically challenged cannot take off from work.
- And in some cases, parents may not know what to do.
In a 2010 study, even though about 1/3 of all missing children in the FBI's database were Black, they only made up about 20% of the missing children cases covered in the news. And in a 2015 study, Black children accounted for about 35% of missing children cases in the FBI's database but amounted to only 7% of media references.
The statistics around child abduction are staggering. In fact, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, it has been estimated that one in seven runaways are likely victims of sex trafficking. Saved in America.org has assisted parents and law enforcement in the recovery of more than 250 children nationwide from traffickers since 2014.
And assist high-risk juvenile facilities to protect children from further exploitation by pimps and predators.
Saved in America.org has a model which consists of three pillars:
- They never charge parents/guardians to find children.
- They do the work voluntarily.
- They only use former special operators and retired/current police detectives who become licensed and insured private investigators.
Adding to this darkness, an estimated 40 million people worldwide and 50,00e in the United States are victims of human traffickers. And child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states.
The hot spots for these sex trafficking abductions are in California, Texas, Florida, and Las Vegas, with 60% of these trafficked children being foster youth.
Sex trafficking is the second largest underground industry in the United Sta,tes following drug trafficking, generating 99 billion dollars a year.
Drug and sex trafficking have been identified as one and the same by Saved in America.org.
Hopefully, you or your family will never have to experience this. Still, if you should have to face it, you know your child better than anyone, and if you know in your heart that your child did not run away, stand firm with law enforcement and let them know that running away is uncharacteristic of your child.
Let's try to keep our children safe.
Until next time, keep flying on your own wings.