Lawmakers and activists made a call to action to reduce the number of missing women and children of color at a congressional convening.
The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls hosted a forum Wednesday, April 26 at the Library of Congress, where experts and activists reviewed the racial disparity in the number of missing women and girls.
The event comes a month after a D.C. police social media campaign gave increased visibility to the number of missing persons in the District and sparked national outrage and rumors about black children in the city being abducted into sex trafficking rings.
City officials discounted the rumors, saying there was no evidence of trafficking and that the campaign was to get the public’s help in locating the missing children, not to indicate an uptick in the number of cases.
“What happened in D.C. four weeks ago did not just become an epidemic,” said Derrica Wilson, founder of the Black and Missing Foundation. “This has been going on for quite some time.”
The Black and Missing Foundation reports that out of 647,435 people who disappeared nationwide in 2016, 242,295, or nearly 40 percent, were minorities.
“In the D.C. area, we all know of Relisha Rudd and we know that situation, but that name didn’t become a national household name,” Wilson said. “It needs to be national because a missing person whether it’s men, women or girls is not just [in D.C.], it’s a national issue.”
Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the number of missing Black women and girls was everyone’s responsibility to address.
“I feel like knocking on every door in this city, searching every basement, every attic and every garage to see where these girls are, if they are still here,” Pelosi said. “How could it be? We protect our people that’s the oath we take to protect and defend. And yet our women and girls especially of color are victimized in this very unjust way?”
Panelist Stephanie Croney of the Black Women’s Health Imperative said children are most vulnerable to abduction in everyday spaces such as school and public transportation, as well as on social media sites.
Michael Lyles of the National Bar Association said concerted efforts by agencies, both federal and local, works to identify and provide services to those who runaway or are victims of trafficking. But he said a remaining issue is laws that may criminalize victims of trafficking and policies that keep young adults just over the age of 18 from receiving much-needed services.
“We need to start looking at the signs and reporting the signs,” said Kisha Roberts-Tabb. “We miss so many of the young ladies being exploited because we don’t see African-American girls as victims. Oftentimes, we see them as being misbehaved.”
She said behaviors such as truancy, multiple minor law infractions and hanging out with older people could all be signs that a child is in trouble.
Caucus members pledged to advocate for more funding, housing and training to aid those on the ground responding to the issue.
The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls was founded by Reps. Robin Kelly, Yvette Clarke and Bonnie Watson Coleman in 2016 and consists of more than 20 lawmakers working toward solutions to challenges affecting black women and girls in the U.S.