It would have been impossible to check out your social media app of choice this past weekend without seeing your feeds flooded with posts about the missing girls in Washington, D.C. Everyone from actress Rowan Blanchard to that one girl you had bio with last year have posted about it, making this story–which was originally only making waves in relatively small black activist circles–a nationwide sensation.
Can someone explain to me how 14 black girls go missing in 24 hours in DC and it’s not a goddamn news story?!? pic.twitter.com/o1WnG3uKUW
— DanielleMoodie-Mills (@DeeTwoCents) March 24, 2017
If you’re a little lost, here’s what you need to know: A post claiming that 14 black girls went missing in D.C. in 24 hours went viral. This coincided with the DC Police Department’s Twitter account suddenly publicizing more missing persons reports–new and old–and an overall increase in public outcry about the lack of attention missing black girls were receiving. Add news stories of police officers charged with sex trafficking and you’ve got an explosive rumor: Black girls in DC are disappearing in droves, and they’re probably being trafficked as sex slaves, and the media would be covering their disappearances if they were white.
While issues of sexual exploitation and racism are vital conversations to tackle, missing black girls deserve to have a discourse around their disappearances that’s actually accurate. So here are five facts about the missing D.C. girls that you need to know before you talk about it with others (or reblog another #BringBackOurGirls post).
1. Fourteen black girls didn’t go missing in 24 hours in D.C.
FIND OUR GIRLS #FINDOURGIRLSDC Posting whatever info and pictures of the girls I can find on my story Please spread the word Repost @chaninicholas ・・・ If you are in the Venus retrograde course with me you know that we are entering the heart of Venus's retrograde cycle and the part of Inanna's myth where she is deep in the underworld and in need of help. Her faithful counterpart, Ninshubur, rallies the the god, Enki to save her. Ninshubur is relentless in her search for help. She petitions other gods who will not come to Innana's aid. She does not stop until Enki helps her. Together they save Inanna from death. They do so through compassion. They do so with resilience. They do so because it is their job. The fact that these stories are finally breaking into consciousness is our call to action. Please do not turn away. Please call on the powers that be. Spread the word. Howl. Cry. Do not let the world rest until these young ones are brought back from the underworld. . Care. . More. . #Repost @h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y Repost #findourgirlsdc #findourgirls 💔
Whoever started this rumor probably meant well, as did the people who spread the word, but it’s untrue. There simply weren’t 14 different police reports filed for underage black girls in a 24 hour timespan in D.C. In fact, the number of reported missing children has seen a slight decrease this year, and most of the children who were reported missing have been found.
Some of the most popular images circulating of the 14 missing girls were taken from missing persons reports that are several years old. If there’s such a thing as a well meaning hoax, this is an example of one. This emphasizes the importance of verifying information instead of thoughtlessly retweeting or reblogging.
2. There’s a disproportionate number of missing black people in the United States.
Turn on sound, listen to Sunny Hostin 💔(Rg @tavitulle) Video @diandre_tristan / Words @womensmarch: We came out in droves for our Muslim sisters and brothers, for refugees and immigrants, for women as a whole. We ask our supporters to do so again for these missing girls, for our daughters. If we do not take action to address the mass disappearance of Black and Latina girls, we cannot claim to stand for all women. We cannot claim to be true to our commitment to justice, safety, security for all. We are committed to support, advocate for and uplift the work of local organizations that have long been dedicated to finding and caring for these girls, and for all missing youth – including trans and gender nonconforming youth. We will not rest until they are brought back safely. While some are just now turning their attention to the issue of the disappearance of girls of color, this crisis is far from new, and it's on the rise. We will not rest until all women and girls and femmes are able to live free from violence. #findourgirls #stayhuman #resist
Sure, the 14 missing girls rumor is false, but some good came out of it: People are starting to talk frankly about missing black people in America. According to Black and Missing Inc, 36.7 percent of missing people under the age of 17 are black; it’s worth noting that only 14 percent of children in the United States are black. Additionally, black children make up at least 33 percent of missing children’s cases, but only receive 19 percent of media coverage. Ever heard of missing white woman syndrome? It’s the idea that the media largely only covers incidents in which white women are kidnapped or otherwise in peril, but ignore stories in which non-white women receive the same fate. This is easily applied to the case of missing black kids in this country. Think about it: How many times have you seen a news story about a missing white kid on TV? Okay, how many missing black or brown kids have you heard about? Right, exactly.
3. There are loads of unverified or debunked rumors in the wake of this missing girls saga.
My boyfriend sent me this last night. WOMEN PLEASE BE CAREFUL ! pic.twitter.com/9evLTiQnOR
— Shaaay (@iamshaayb) March 25, 2017
In the wake of this hysteria, I’ve seen an influx of paranoia on my Twitter feed about sex trafficking rings. I even saw this post above, which claimed that if there’s a plastic bag on your windshield wiper, it’s a sign that sex traffickers are monitoring you in the hopes of a successful kidnapping opportunity. Life is strange, but while this isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility, I was skeptical of the story’s veracity, especially given the ease in which the cops reviewed parking lot footage and deduced that this scheme was the act of a sex ring so quickly. So, I hit up Snopes–a site that specializes in fact checking–and stumbled upon an incredibly similar rumor…which was deemed false.
If a story sounds like something your grandma would send you in a chain email from her AOL.com address, it probably is.
Look, it’s important to be vigilant about your safety. Sex trafficking exists, child exploitation is a problem, thousands of people go missing every year. I’m a black woman, and the fact that there are at least 64,000 black women reported missing in the United States terrifies me. But buying into everything someone claims about kidnapping isn’t going to save you. If you’re skeptical about a story about a kidnapping, Google it and see if it can be verified by a trusted resource.
4. The reasons these girls go missing varies, but regardless of whether a missing person was kidnapped or ran away, the underlying issues of that person’s disappearance need to be addressed.
Insisting Black & Latinx children must be runaways lets cops continue not to look for them. A. Runaways are children. They need help.
— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) March 26, 2017
TMZ came out with a story claiming that, according to a police chief in D.C., most of the district’s missing black girls are runaways. Whether it’s true or not, that comes across as oddly dismissive. A runaway is still someone who could be in serious danger from strangers who wish to do harm on children. And just because someone isn’t snatched off the street like an episode of a crime drama, doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues to be addressed. Many minors run away from home because they have a troubled life at home; maybe they’re abused, hungry, harassed over sexual/gender identity, etc. It’s important to address all the factors that make a 14-year-old girl’s home life so bad that she think she’s better off running away. It’s important to address what kind of societal factors make some girls prime targets for exploitation.
Plus, again, not every missing black or brown child is a runaway. There are predators out there who know how to manipulate children into trusting them, and the next thing you know, that kid is gone. I know I’ve harped on not giving into misinformation and dramatics, but there’s no point in being naive either.
5. There are things being done to address the crisis of missing black children, but there’s a lot of work to do.
Sure, 14 black girls didn’t disappear in the course of a day, but it doesn’t matter if it was 24 hours, 24 days, or 24 months, missing children should never be ignored. In the wake of this controversy, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser started an initiative to provide organizations with more resources to assist “at risk” teens in the district. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s a start, and every little bit helps.
It’s easy to feel helpless in situations like this; you can donate to an organization that specializes in missing children, but beyond that and retweeting some missing person’s flyer, it’s hard to really feel like you can make a difference. The best you can do is make sure you have all the right information, stay vigilant, and try to be as safe as possible out there.
What do you think about this missing girls drama? Do you think that we’re too quick to retweet or reblog before finding out the whole story? How do you feel about the missing girls being classified as runaways? Tell us in the comments!