Yesterday was National Missing Children’s Day. This particular day was chosen to commemorate and honor missing children as well as their family members who never stop searching. May 25th was chosen as the date due to the fact that 6 year old Etan Patz went missing from his home in New York City on this day in 1979. Four years later, this day was declared Missing Children’s Day across the nation.
This year, activist groups such as Missing Children Minnesota, http://www.missingchildrenmn.org and the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center, ( www.jwrc.org ) decided to approach the day differently. When asked why, Teresea Lhotka of Missing Children Minnesota said, “It was Patty’s (Wetterling’s) idea. She said, ‘I’m tired of vigils and moments of silence, let’s make some noise!’”
This attitude is fitting, because one of the biggest messages of the day is that ordinary people help in the fight for finding the missing every day, and they do this by speaking up. As Officer Chris Stark from the St. Paul Police Department commented, “We’ve all been blessed with the feelings inside our gut. We know when something isn’t right.”
Yet many of us hesitate to speak. In a hidden camera experiment, a young actress portrayed an abducted child. An actor portrayed her kidnapper and they repeatedly walked into a bakery in upstate New York. Although there were photos of the girl on Missing Person posters everywhere on that block, including inside of the bakery, most people chose to walk away from the situation, even after they did a double-take and clearly identified the girl as the missing child. To see this experiment, click on the following link
Most of us think that we wouldn’t do this, we would speak up, but psychological studies over the past few decades have proven otherwise. Two relevant studies are the Stanford Prison experiment, ( see link,) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ir9G8RF1NXY&list=PL98578AAEDBF20AE7 , and the Stanley Millgram experiment, (see link,)
Both of these experiments confirm that the majority of people in our society bow to social convention and perceived hierarchies, even when we see something that we believe is morally wrong. We don’t question things that seem out of the ordinary if the person who is doing these things is viewed as a person who should rightly have that power. Thus, if a young girl is in the company of an adult male, we tend to see him as the correct person to be in charge of that situation, even if the girl is noticeably trying to get away from that man.
The good news is that some of us do break free of this mold. In fact, the National Center for Missing Children has stated that the children who were found and returned to their homes were most often helped by strangers who stood up and reported their concerns to authorities. Earlier this year, a woman was taking a shower in her apartment when someone came in and took her baby. A Wireless Emergency Alert, (WEA,) was issued, and a teenage girl saw the information on her phone. She noticed that the car outside her home resembled the description of the suspect’s car, and she convinced her father to call 911, thus saving the life of this child and returning the baby to the mother. In another recent Minnesota case, an 18 year old with a disability went missing from White Bear Lake. It was the tips from strangers that brought him home to his family.
Another piece of good news is that tragedies in the past have given us tools to be more productive in the present. As Michelle Fournier of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center says, “Collaboration is essential.” In addition, Carol Watson of Missing Children Minnesota pointed out that even when a child is found and returned to their home, the struggle is not over, and the situation does not usually return to normal. Both the child and the family members must deal with the psychological ramifications of having a missing piece in that child’s life. This is one of the reasons why partnerships between organizations are so important. These are some of the organizations that have been particularly helpful in this regard-
Day One Network, Catholic Charities, Breaking Free, Demanding Change and the Sexual Violence Center.
As part of the theme of “making noise,” as well as collaboration within our community, an enlivened and inspirational performance was given by “Voice of Culture Drum and Dance.” To see a portion of this performance, click on the following link http://youtu.be/aVwLcXFC3IM
May 25th was also commemorated in a different way this year because it is recognized that not everyone who goes missing is a child. Chris Rush from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, (BCA) reported that last year, over 9,477 people went missing in the state of Minnesota alone. Parents and family members no longer have to wait 24 hours to report a missing person. Law enforcement recognizes that timing is of the essence, and that when an 18 year old simply disappears, and uncustomarily stops contacting friends and family members, we need to recognize the gravity of the situation. When asked why she does what she does for a living, Rush replied, “I do it for the missing, I get to help save kids, but also, I get to work with heroes.”
For more information about the BCA clearinghouse, see the following link
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