Every once in awhile, the story of a missing child, like missing Florida toddler Caylee Anthony, grips the nation. But what I have begun to realize, as we are putting the final touches on our October Lifetime Achievement Award gala honoring John Walsh, is just how many children go missing every year.
According to the Department of Justice, around 800,000 children are reported missing each year. That is more than 2,000 children a day, more than 40 children a second, who do not return home – for hours, for days, for months and sadly, sometimes forever. Of course some are child custody disputes, but far too many are the result of predators; both online and on the street. That is as many children as the combined populations of Oakland, California, and Miami, Florida – every year.
Right now, there are 17 children missing in Utah. Some have been missing for days, others for years. It is almost painful to glance at their pictures.
Then there are the numbers regarding exploitation of children online – those statistics are just as harrowing. On Wednesday, a Google search showed no fewer than 15 articles run just Wednesday from San Jose, California, to Ft. Myers, Florida, to Wisconsin about arrests that had occurred as a result of Internet-related crimes against minors. And those were just arrests, reported that day, not crimes committed.
According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CACRC), 67% of those arrested for Internet crimes against children also possessed child pornography of some kind and 83% of child pornography recovered during involved children between the ages of 6 and 12.
According to Family Safe Media, 34% of kids online received unwanted sexual solicitations and in chat rooms, its even worse with 89% of users reporting aggressive solicitation. Kids need to understand that the new “friend” they may have made online, could be anyone, even an adult predator.
These are sobering statistics.
How can you help? When you go home tonight, hug your kids. Then sit down with them and open a dialogue of safety and awareness – both online and offline. Share these statistics with them. You can’t keep them safe all the time, but you can increase their (and your) awareness of the world around them.
We cannot afford even one more child to become one of these statistics.