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America’s Missing Persons by Age, Race and Gender

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The Wall Street Journal
Rani Molla
October 10, 2014

Children and blacks make up a disproportionate percentage of missing persons reported each year. In 2013, people under 18 made up nearly three-quarters of missing persons reported, but only made up 23% of the population. Blacks, while accounting for 13% of the population last year, comprised 35% of the missing, according to Wall Street Journal analysis of the FBI data and Census population estimates.

Children are far more likely to be reported missing because there’s more of an impetus to report them and because children are more vulnerable to victimization, according to Bob Lowery, vice president of the Missing Children’s Division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

“There is federal legislation requiring the immediate reporting of people under 18 who are missing to law enforcement,” Mr. Lowery said. “There’s no such law for adults because anyone over 18 certainly has the right to not be found.”

Approximately 80% of disappearances for people under 18 are considered runaways. Of those, 1 in 7 becomes the victim of sex trafficking, according National Center for Missing & Exploited Children data. Other reasons for reporting children missing are family abductions, where a noncustodial family member takes the child. Non-family abduction—the kind many of think of when a stranger takes a child—makes up less than 1% of reported missing children.

It’s less clear why a disproportionate number of blacks disappear.

“Minorities are disappearing for the same reasons as other people—mental illness, sex trafficking, parental and stranger abductions, domestic violence—however, as the data show, it’s at a disproportionate rate,” said Natalie Wilson, cofounder of Black and Missing Foundation, an organization dedicated to highlighting this issue. “As an organization, we’re trying to understand why we’re disappearing at such an alarming rate.”

What’s worse, Ms. Wilson believes the number of missing blacks is underreported.

“What we’re finding with missing people of color is that reports are not always taken or being made by the family,” she said. “We’re noticing that individuals may not know what to do or how to file a police report or, if they did, one wasn’t taken because the police say they’re [the black victim is] an adult and can walk away at any time.”

On a brighter note, the number of missing people reported each year has dropped significantly since its peak of nearly a million in 1997. For all of last year, there were 627,911 missing persons reports. As of September 1, 2014, there were 83,685 missing person entries currently listed in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Mr. Lowery chalks up the drop in missing persons reports to a number of reasons, including increased media coverage, public awareness and the use of technologies like cell phones, cameras and Amber Alerts.

Social media is also to thank. Young people’s dependence on social media often makes there whereabouts available, even in the case of runaways.

“While it’s all really good news, we’re now seeing a change in behavior of the offenders,” Mr. Lowery said. “Instead of grabbing a kid on their way home from school, now we’re seeing people luring children on social media and the internet.”

Photo credit: Lukas from Pexels

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