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Missing DC Girls

How social media is fighting to find missing girls in D.C

22 teens have been reported missing in the last two months in the area – here’s what you can do to help

Reports have been surfacing that highlight the concerning numbers of young black and latinx people who have been reported missing in Washington D.C. 10 young people of colour were reported missing in the space of two weeks, and as of mid-March, 22 are still open cases. Most of these reports though haven’t been coming from mainstream media outlets: it’s Twitter. 

Earlier this month, @BlackMarvelGirl, as Teen Vogue reports, tweeted some information and photos of eight black teenage girls who had been missing in Washington over a week. It garnered thousands of retweets and interactions. Many other users noted how these stories hadn’t made it into local or major news outlets, but social media has been picking up the slack to spread awareness for the missing.

An article over on The Root pointed to the cases of young women of colour in particular who were missing, ages ranging between 13 and 16-years-old. Writer Yesha Callahan asks, after posting the missing person tweets: “Do you see those faces? Have you seen those faces on the news? How many times did you see Natalee Holloway’s visage on the news when she went missing? Do you recall how long her search went on?” This references the case of Natalee Holloway, a young white woman whose case received global attention.

Callahan also draws attention to the Black and Missing Foundation page, which aims to raise awareness of the cases of those sidelined by the mainstream narrative. It’s indicative, as other outlets have since reported, of what journalist Gwen Ifill dubbed ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’. It boils down to “the media’s fascination with missing women who are white, young, pretty, and often from middle- or upper-class backgrounds, and media’s simultaneous apparent lack of regard for those who do not fit this description”.

The news has since gained traction, with the likes of Fox, NBC and other national U.S outlets picking up on the concerning news. Celebrities and gone viral in the form of a widely-shared tweet.

The tweet in question states that 14 girls went missing in D.C within the space of 24 hours. It’s been shared almost 50,000 times, and caused major uproar.

Authorities told NBC Washington that this was untrue: “Since March 19, D.C. police have shared 20 missing person fliers on Twitter,” the news outlet reported after speaking with police representatives. “10 of these people were juveniles. As of Friday, six of these juveniles had been found; four still were missing.”

A writer from the New York Daily News, Shaun King, also pointed out on Twitter that the images from the false tweet had been taken from an article of his, in which many of the young women were not actually from the D.C area.

Officials told the Associated Press that there has been no increase in the the city’s missing person population. “We’ve just been posting them on social media more often,” Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Rachel Reid explained. Though their records show that the number of missing has been steady, neither increasing nor decreasing, any missing children are cause for serious concern. 

The department also noted that the social media strategy had been altered, and authorities had begun posting missing ads more frequently. 

Nevertheless, the area is reflective of a wider issue when young people of colour go missing. According to the National Crime Information Centre, there were 218,818 missing black people last year, approximately a third of the missing population. It’s disproportionate compared to the fact that African Americans make up 13.3 percent of those in the U.S.

As the Root also note, at least some of these cases could be linked to sex trafficking. Callahan spoke to Roxie Farrow, executive director of the Exodus Project, who said: “Our children are talking about it. Every time we have a workshop in our schools.”

As CNN reports, the Congressional Black Caucus filed a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the FBI to ask for an investigation into young people of colour going missing. In the letter, they state: “when children of colour go missing, authorities often assume they are runaways rather than victims of abduction.” The letter also asked that a federal investigation “devote(s) the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly, or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.” 

Though authorities deny the idea that the missing people could be reflective of a trend, or linked to sex trafficking and slavery, it’s not something that should immediately be ruled out in a state that has had a trafficking problem.

Law enforcement veteran Derrica Wilson additionally told Essence: “We know Blacks and Latinos or any persons of colour who go missing, oftentimes don't receive much-needed media coverage, which could drastically increase the odds of their safe recovery.”

If you want to help in any way, there are several things you can do. If you have information on any of the missing young people, call the state police department on (202) 727-9099. If you live locally, attend meetings (check the latest town hall meeting below, again, indicative of the narrative going on) and contact your local representatives.

You can also support the Black and Missing Foundation, which works to promote awareness for black people left out of mainstream reporting. It’s also imperative to keep these issues at the forefront of social media, but share credible, fact-based news and information. Check the sources before you press retweet. Use fact-checking sites like Snopes, research the names of what might not be credible publications or users. Do your best to keep your voice loud, and challenge society’s failure to equally look out for the vulnerable.