While hanging out on Facebook last Friday evening, I saw a post about a missing girl. As I normally do, I studied her picture to see if she looked familiar and took note of her name, in case I needed the information later. Seeing these types of posts is so common that, honestly, I was unmoved…until I logged on to FB on Saturday and saw another post…of a different girl. On Sunday, there were two more. Over the course of 48 hours, there were missing persons reports issued for four different girls in Prince George’s County. Clearly, something was happening. Three of the girls were found safe by Monday morning, but that is not always the case.
My thoughts turned to the 200+ Chibok school girls abducted by the extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria last year. President Goodluck Jonathan reported this week that the girls are still alive but he made no mention of their whereabouts or condition. Their mass kidnapping captured the world’s attention, sparking a global social media campaign using the hashtag #bringbackourgirls. But where is the hashtag for the individual girls who fall off the radar every day? Where is the social media campaign for the teen girl held captive as a sex slave in a Hyattsville apartment last summer? Where is the social media campaign for Relisha Rudd who disappeared one year ago this week?
During the fall 2014 observance of the Day of the Girl, Zelophehad’s Daughters sponsored an awareness rally to educate the people of Maryland about the prevalence of human trafficking right here in Prince George’s County.
In preparation for the rally, Z Daughters participated in prevention training and awareness education sponsored by a local advocacy and victim support organization. The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force reports that the state’s central location and proximity to I-95 and major cities like Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York uniquely situates Maryland to be a “hot spot” for trafficking. Much of the training focused on identifying and reporting victims, but the rally focused on tips for prevention, things that we can do as a community to #keepgirlssafe.
- Provide girls with structured extra-curricular activities to lessen their idle time.
- Encourage safe internet practices by using high-level privacy settings on social media accounts, only communicating with people that they know in real life, adding trusted adults as “friends” who can monitor potentially harmful activity, and never sharing personal, identifying information online.
- Hold girls accountable by always letting a parent or guardian know where they are and who they are with.
- Build girls’ self-esteem and provide opportunities for constant affirmation. A girl who is already affirmed is less likely to be “thirsty” for affirmation from unhealthy places.
- Pay attention to girls who are isolated, withdrawn, or who exhibit drastic changes in mood or behavior. Don’t just pay attention. Ask questions. Make time.
- Show the girls in your life that you love them and care about their well being. Let her know that she has value and that she matters, #bcuzshecounts.
This list is not exhaustive and it surely won’t wave a magic wand to instantly stop girls from disappearing. But not having all the answers doesn’t absolve us from taking any action. We may not be able to save every girl, but maybe these simple steps can help us to create an environment that is safe for all girls.
I pray that Kiera Richardson is found safe. I pray that the Chibok girls are rescued soon and returned to their waiting families. And I pray that every encounter I have with a girl keeps her from becoming a hashtag.
*Since this post was written earlier this week, two more girls from Prince George’s County were reported missing-Nibras Samsheldin (13, Mt Ranier) and Amia Morgan (17, Laurel). Nibras has been found safe.