D.C.’s Missing Teens

There are a lot of “unsolved” mysteries out there, but this week, I found this case – or cases – weighing on my mind.

Let’s get this much straight – the viral Twitter post that you’ve probably seen claiming that 14 D.C.-area teen girls went missing in 24 hours has been debunked.

BUT – I still consider this mystery unsolved. Why?

Because one missing person is one too many.

This week’s post won’t be about theorizing, whodunnit or “evidence”. Instead, consider this a case “fact-check” and guide to action. This week, we’re looking at the reality behind missing teen cases in D.C. and what can be done to help find them.

WHAT HAPPENED?

If you haven’t heard about this story, here’s how it went down:

D.C. Police have started a new strategy for finding critical missing juveniles that includes sharing their missing posters on Twitter. However, some Twitter users perceived this to mean all of these girls had gone missing at once, or that there was a spike in missing girls in recent weeks. The tweet below went viral, setting off a firestorm of reactions and shares:

D.C. police did their best to try to explain the situation to the now thousands of people who started tweeting to them about the spike.

Still, responses spread quicker than answers, leading to increased outcry about the missing girls, even after some had been located. D.C. Police ultimately had a press conference, during which they explained the strategy and the statistics revealing that there has been no spike in missing D.C. girls. Media outlets eventually got ahold of the story, with many attempting to parse out what was fact and fiction.

WHAT’S THE TRUTH?

To clear up any misconceptions, here are the hard facts:

Blog Infographic

Data retrieved on 3/29/2017 from here and here.

So, if the statistics show no spikes, the teens left voluntarily, and there’s no evidence of foul play, everything is okay, right?

Nope.

WHY IS IT STILL A PROBLEM?

While the dust seems to have settled around the specific viral post for now, the reality of missing teens of color in D.C. – and across the nation – has been brought to light for many. What issues? There are many.

MINORITIES ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY MISSING

According to the Black & Missing Foundation, 36.7 percent of missing teens in the U.S. in 2016 were black. That number is staggering, considering black Americans make up 13.3 percent of the U.S. population. Even the statistics from the graphic above show the missing D.C. teen population is entirely either black or Latinx. However, it is hard to parse out data about missing Latinx teens – both the D.C. Police Department and the FBI lump missing “Hispanic” persons into the “White” category in their missing persons statistics. It’s also hard to concretely find the full total because teens of color are often immediately labeled “runaways” instead of actual missing persons.

chart
Chart from the Black & Missing Foundation of 2016 Missing Juvenile Cases Reported in the Entire U.S.
WE DON’T HEAR ABOUT IT

Amber alerts can only be issued if the police confirm that the teen has been abducted. The inconsistencies in classifying missing minority teens can sometimes result in cases that may be abductions, but slip through the cracks.

There’s also racial disparity at play in what’s called the “missing white woman syndrome”, the media prism that observes that the news will focus heavily on the murder/disappearance/kidnapping of pretty, young, white, mid to upper-class females, but not devote the same attention to missing people of color. Even a 2010 report found that while black children made up 33.2 percent of U.S. missing persons cases, they only received 19.5 percent of national television news coverage on missing children. D.C. City Councilmember Trayon White puts it bluntly:

“We just feel like, you know, if this was a white person or from another neighborhood, there would be more alarm about it.”

THE ISSUE ISN’T ONLY IN D.C.

Numerous outlets and representatives from missing minority-focused groups have confirmed that minority teens are missing from all over the country, not just D.C. While D.C.’s missing population has been in the national spotlight as of late, the issue of these missing individuals persists in cities like New York, Detroit, and Chicago.

TRAFFICKING IS STILL A CONCERN

There may not currently be evidence that any of the missing D.C. girls are victims are trafficking, it is still a concern for missing teens – and missing minority teens in particular. A Bureau of Justice Statistics Report indicates that 77 percent of victims in alleged human trafficking in the U.S. were people of color, and other reports show that individuals in minority groups are disproportionately targeted for trafficking. Again – while there is no evidence of this with the girls currently missing in D.C., it contributes to the issue of missing minority teens across the country.

WHAT IS BEING DONE?

Here’s some good news – several of the D.C. girls originally reported missing have been found safe. But – action doesn’t end there.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has announced new initiatives coming to the city to assist in combating missing persons cases.

Additionally, D.C. police are continuing to investigate these disappearances and are urging social media users to share posts of missing flyers. Representatives from the police department have commented, saying that the increased awareness around the cases means that their new strategy is working, and that users retweeting missing posters, or D.C. Police posts, is one of the biggest ways for average citizens to help.

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?

Here are some takeaways – both crime and social media-related – from the recent attention brought to these cases:

  • Just because something has a lot of retweets or likes does not mean that it is accurate. Always remember to do your own research before sharing anything that sounds too outrageous to be true. The D.C. missing person statistics are public and updated daily.
  • Even if this post turned out to be incorrect, missing minority teens, and trafficking of minorities, is still a national issue.
  • Social media can still be an effective tool in finding missing persons, and quickly disseminating information.

Hopefully this post has shed some light on the realities behind the state of missing minority juveniles across the country. Remember – always research, think critically, and of course, seek the truth every day.

4 thoughts on “D.C.’s Missing Teens

  1. Lauren–this is such an amazing blog post. Not only is it relevant AND fitting with your blog, but it’s a great fact-checking resource, and I feel more informed having read it. I admire the way you visualized your data and used verified sources. It’s amazing how seeing the data puts the situation into perspective, for example, who would have known that 2017’s average of missing juveniles per month is lower than 2016 (so far). And, I think it’s great how you still get to what really is wrong with the situation–how juveniles of color are disproportionately affected. There was also a great balance of text and visuals. My only suggestion is to perhaps tie the post even closer to your true crime theme…have there been any instances in the past where misinformation exacerbated a “crime”?

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  2. Lauren, thank you for doing this! Very relevant to your blog and our class in general. This post was really conducive to an infographic as well, so I can tell you were really strategic in picking this issue. I read a Post article on this today, and dare I say it, this blog was much more enticing to follow due to your organization of the facts and visual content. Particularly I liked the “What we don’t hear about section.” I had no idea on the specifics of the Amber Alert issuing. All in all, I really learned a lot with this post. You’d be a phenomenal fact-checker.

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  3. Lauren, I loved the layout of this blog. You updated us on a recent event, gave us the background, and listed the main takeaways. This post had a great flow to it, very easy to follow along. I loved your use of links integrated into the text, it kept the overall presentation very clean. I think this incident is a great example of fake news spreading quickly, which is one downside to having social media as accessible and immediate as it is. It’s also a great lesson that people should think about what they’re reading before reacting to it. The fact that there was such an outcry about something false just proves how people like to use social media to complain

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  4. Hey Lauren! This post is awesome! I agree with Sophie, I feel like I have learned so much after reading your post. I love how you tied this timely, newsy, and very important topic to your overall blog theme. You did a fantastic job of incorporating your infographics in a way that felt very natural. I felt like I could’ve seen these same infographics being used in a story coming from a national news outlet. Your infographics helped make all of the information in your story very easy-to-read and digestible. I also love how you break your post into sub-sections with titles. Your attention to detail really brings this post to the next level. Awesome job!!

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