Too often, when news of a missing child comes across the wire, we hear people say things like “Oh, she ‘just’ ran away” or “He’s fine. His mother took him, how bad can it be if he’s with his mother?”
It is important to get past this idea as a society that there are different “classes” of missing. Yes, different circumstances require different search and recovery efforts, but there should not be a sense that certain kinds of missing do not count, or are not important.
Some things for you to think about regarding run-aways, and abductions by a family member (sometimes referred to as “family abductions”).
In a “family abduction”
· A child’s sense of safety, well-being, as well as mental and emotional health is violated when they are taken without warning and kept away from their custodial care-giver, their home, their friends, and their normal routine. Even when they are returned in good health and uninjured, they are at risk to experience anxiety, depression, and other psychological problems.
· Many children in family abductions have been told that the left-behind parent gave them away, is very angry with them, doesn’t love them anymore, or was killed. Some have been given disturbing and terrifying descriptions of the death of the left-behind parent.
· Often, children abducted by family members have had their entire identity erased, had to give up favorite activities that they found comforting, and had to go by a different name. They are robbed of the right to their own sense of self.
· Some children abducted by family members have been kept out of school, and not allowed normal social interaction, education, or medical care because of the risk that they will be recognized.
· Children abducted by family members are often neglected or abused as the abducting parent fails to cope with the stresses of single parent-hood on the run…or when they are left in the care of others while the parent is distracted by the difficulties of a disrupted life.
· It is not unusual for the abducting parent to take the child as a way of continuing a cycle of abuse of the custodial parent. The child becomes an object used to torture the other parent. This is very damaging.
In the case of “runaways”
· Not all cases categorized as “runaways” are actually run-aways. Just because they are a teenager with problems, it does not mean that they are missing because they ran away.
· A child might initially have run-away, but once they leave their zone of safety, they are at risk for a subsequent abduction.
· Most runaways will be approached by a predator or a trafficker within 48 hours of leaving their zone of safety.
· Runaways are sometimes running from real danger in their lives. Just because they have run away from their support system, this does not mean that the danger cannot follow them and find them, it just means that they are cut off from help.
One of the things that we do at Missing Children Minnesota, is take call after call from people looking for their missing children who have been told by every person they have asked for help that there is nothing that can be done to look for their missing child. They’re told that when the non-custodial parent kidnaps their child, it is a “custody battle”, not a kidnapping. They’re told there is a waiting period.
Sometimes, as many as a half a dozen people in a month call us about their missing children. We are the first people to tell them their rights, refer them to resources, give them the language that lets them engage the system to work on their behalf. We are the first to provide real solutions and tools rather than give them the brush-off because their cases are not recognized as missing children and abduction cases.
This needs to change, and the only way to change it is to increase public awareness of the problem, and public pressure for proper training and response of our system to uphold our laws and meet the needs of the missing and their families.