As over a dozen teens have gone missing in Washington D.C. since the beginning of the year, community leaders have become concerned that some of these girls may be victims of human trafficking.
Reports on the exact number of missing teens has varied: The Huffington Post reportedly conducted an analysis that found there were still 37 unsolved missing persons cases in D.C. since January involving both girls and boys, all of whom are black or Hispanic. A March 14 column in the Washington Post said that as of that day, 10 teen girls remained missing in the D.C. area.
Earlier this week, NBC News published an interactive map of missing D.C.-area teens, mostly female, whose last locations were known.
Among them are 15-year-old Dayanna White, who did not return home from school on March 3 and has not been seen since. Her mother, Dana White-Stevenson, told the Independent Journal Review that she had received minimal support from the Metropolitan Police Department, and that she and her husband have been doing the bulk of the work to find the girl.
Fourteen-year-old Shania Boyd has been missing since March 3. Cherea Payne, 17, vanished on March 17. Very little information about their, and other, disappearances has been made public.
On social media, many have expressed their frustration about the lack of media attention given to these missing black youths, arguing that the disappearance of one white girl can will will often get wall-to-wall coverage while other cases will get ignored
Social media efforts to mitigate the lack of news coverage on the disappearance does appear to have raised the profile of the missing teens, along with fears that danger is lurking in the nation’s capital. A recent tweet about some of the missing girls received well over 100,000 retweets.
The apparent spike in vanishing girls has raised concerns in the community about human trafficking.
Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the non-profit Black & Missing Foundation, told WAMU that the D.C. area is historically a target for human traffickers, and said the fears of such crimes are more than valid.
“What’s alarming is the number of kids going missing in such a short period of time,” Wilson said, “and although they have not linked it directly to human trafficking, we can’t dismiss that that’s an issue we face right here.”
Indeed, law enforcement and public officials have downplayed the significance of the missing teen cases.
At a press conference last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said there was “no evidence to suggest an increase in missing persons,” continuing:
But her comments have done little to calm worried — and angry — residents.
“So to say that is not an uptick in the number of kids that are going missing — to see that 10 children go missing within two weeks,” Wilson told Fox 5 D.C. “That right there is alarming in itself.”