One misleading statistic that has gone viral on social media
Despite the increased attention on missing children in Washington DC, the number of missing person reports is actually below the District's five-year average.
At least 501 teenagers have been reported missing in Washington DC since the start of 2017. As of March 23, 22 of those cases were still open. This has led two members of Congress to ask the Department of Justice (DOJ) to look into the District's missing children cases and provide additional resources wherever needed. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) asked the Trump administration to “determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.”
The push spawned the hashtag #missingdcgirls, leading many to believe that the number of children in the District reported missing has suddenly spiked. The good news is that Washington DC is not seeing a dramatic increase in child abductions. The bad news is that these high numbers are, unfortunately, typical.
Metropolitan Police statistics show that over the past five years, approximately 200 people are reported missing every month, on average. So far in 2017, DC has seen 190 missing person reports a month. So definitionally, more people are not
being reported missing.
But those statistics speak to multiple age groups. What about children and teenagers specifically?
Metro Police say that the number of children reported missing is, unfortunately, on par with numbers the district has scene in recent years. What has changed, however, is how police are approaching cases of missing children. In recent months, Metro Police have begun posting missing children graphics onto social media more frequently. The goal was to raise awareness to the issue and hopefully track the missing children down.
The flip-side to that coin is that by increasing the cases' public exposure, the social media strategy has created the illusion of an increase in missing children. If all of a sudden, area residents begin to see more missing person notices than usual, it is understandable that they would believe the number of cases has increased. And it is not just citizens who have been swept up in this. As mentioned, the increased exposure led two Members of Congress to petition the DOJ and FBI for more help.
However, it isn't just the DC Metro Police that is sharing these cases on social media. Average citizens have also taken up the issue. The problem is that not all of the images and memes they are sharing are accurate. One widely-shared Instagram post (shown at the top) purported that there were 14 teenage girls reported missing in a 24-hour period. Metro Police confirmed that statistic was incorrect.
That has not stopped some people from sharing the images to gin up public outrage.
Some others promoting the #missingdcgirls message are doing so for political reasons. Believers of the PizzaGate conspiracy - the assertion that Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, ran a child trafficking operation out of DC pizzeria, Comet Pizza
- are co-opting the hashtag to push their own theories. Not only is Comet Pizza not
a staging ground for child trafficking,
but Metro Police also reject the notion that the District's missing children cases are linked to sex trafficking.
During the week of March 19, Metro Police posted 20 missing persons cases to their social media accounts. Ten of those were children. By the end of the week, six of the child cases were closed. Out of the 19,000 missing persons reports filed between 2012-2016, only 16 cases are still open. The assertion that Metro Police are not working these cases or is overwhelmed by volume is simply not true.
The Metropolitan Police Department's strategy worked. By posting these cases more frequently, they received more attention. However, that doesn't mean that the number of missing children reports is increasing. Unfortunately, it is just as high as ever. But with this added attention and the prospect of more assistance from the DOJ, FBI, and general public, the police are hoping they can start reducing this number and closing cases even faster.