A recent viral topic on social media has sparked fears about missing teens in D.C.—but hype and misinformation has caused undue panic for many people.
We’ve reported extensively on the human trafficking epidemic taking place worldwide, but distorted facts do not help any of the victims involved.
So with that, let’s break down the facts.
The number of teens missing in the nation’s capitol has dropped in the last year. In 2015, the total number was 2,433, whereas in 2016 it was 2,242.
2,242 is still too high a number, but users on sites like Twitter and Facebook became extremely alarmed, suggesting a recent spike in missing persons, which is statistically inaccurate.
“We’ve just been posting [missing teen cases] on social media more often,” said Rachel Reid, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police Department.
Indeed, the cause of the panic was not a misreporting of missing teens, but instead a change in how the department shared such cases with the public.
“A blessing and a curse” is how Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, described law enforcement’s new social media campaign.
As a result of posting about disappearances more frequently, police say they have managed to solve cases faster than before.
An underlying narrative to the missing D.C. teen story was that most of the young women were black and latino, which is statistically true but fails to consider that Washington has a large minority population, approximately 48% black.
The issue of missing black/brown teens in DC highlights a steady trend that had gone below the public radar until now. pic.twitter.com/MY9H2cEfcv
— deray mckesson (@deray) March 24, 2017
The numbers are certainly startling, even without the social media alarms sounding: in 2017 so far, 501 missing juvenile cases have been opened.
96% of them have been solved already — a fact missed by many hysterical social media users.
Police say their recent social media campaigning on missing teens has generated a greater public awareness about an issue that’s existed for many years.
“Because of the number of releases, there have been concerns that young girls in the District of Columbia are victims of human trafficking or have been kidnapped,” said Karimah Bilal, a police spokesperson.
Additionally, the majority of missing persons in 2017 are considered by authorities to be voluntary vanishings, meaning the teens were not kidnapped, thus discrediting fears of a massive human trafficking problem in D.C.
“We look at every case closely to make sure that doesn’t happen, but to my knowledge, that hasn’t been a factor in any of our missing person cases,” added Bilal.
Others on social media emphasized the racial component of the story:
— Mariyah (@Mariyah_Israel) March 17, 2017
Numerous celebrities helped bring attention to the story, including LL Cool J, Russell Simmons, and Mark Ruffalo:
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) March 24, 2017
So, the missing teen crisis in D.C. is real news, it’s just not breaking news—the problem has been around for quite some time.
The good news is that people are finally stepping up to help find these girls and, thus, more cases are being solved!