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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Runaways or Lured Away?

Rania Mankarious
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Runaways vs lured away

Runaways vs. lured away: Rania Mankarious shares the signs of a teen runaway as opposed to one who has been lured away by others. (Photo: ID 63291098 © Sergey Kichigin | Dreamstime) 

We all followed the details of the recently missing Memorial High School student. Thank goodness this beautiful 15-year-old from a lovely family is back with her family. While the details of her story are not reflected in this writing, the bigger questions stemming for her and any child’s disappearance are: Where do kids go when they leave? How does this happen? Do they really run away? Why?   

Runaways. Some toss “running away” to a simple point in a child’s life when they need a break or time to do their own thing. In order to run, a child must have the willingness, opportunity and ability. Psychologists also identify triggers like stress, failure, bullying, fear of discipline, a desire to exert power, dealing with a substance abuse, not wanting to go to school or even idealizing running away (creating a romanticized view of freedom in life on the streets) as factors that lead kids to go. While runaways face grave dangers, if they are in control of their fate, the thinking is they will return.

Lured away. But what if the child ran away because they were strategically lured away? There is a huge distinction. A child who is lured away has unknowingly been in contact with a predator who has targeted them, invested in them and at the moment they run, sees them as a financial commodity where they will be held against their will and forced to do the unimaginable. Sure, these children may willingly walk out of their homes but they have been defrauded and will more than likely be trafficked. I would say the dangers for these kids are grave, making it critical that the community come together, in full force, to find them. 

Before you think that can never happen here, think again. In January 2017, a study by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work reported that there are more than 313,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, including almost 80,0000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking cases. Further study shows that while victims of human trafficking were traditionally thought to be homeless individuals, children and youths in the foster care system, and migrant workers, times are changing and so are the victims.

Today we are learning that traffickers are placing recruiters in churches and schools, in all parts of our city, to find their targets. To learn more about this, I spoke to Jennifer Hohman, with Community Awareness Now (CAN). Data on their website spells out the process by which the everyday child, in a regular neighborhood, in a great home, could fall into this trap.

The child is:

  1. Befriended – recruiters are strategically placed in the child’s life to befriend them and gain their trust. They can be new kids at school or church. They may look like your child and will fit right in. 
  2. Intoxicated – once the friendship blossoms, the recruiter introduces alcohol or drugs to start the process of breaking the child down and creating a wedge between the child and her family. Now the child has secrets that she shares with the recruiter but keeps from you. She starts to “enjoy” things that make her feel older and more independent.
  3. Alienated – now that a wedge is developed, parents start responding to the changes in their child by placing more rules and in turn the recruiter uses this to drive a greater wedge between the child and her family.  
  4. Isolated – in addition to causing friction at home, the recruiter drives distance between the child and her friends and introduces the child to a new crowd of people.
  5. Desensitized – by this time, the child has heard so much about “life could be so much better if they were just free.” Parents and their rules are a burden, the child has already done drugs or been drinking, they may have started sleeping with a boyfriend/girlfriend or shared promiscuous images online. They start to see traditional thoughts about respecting themselves and their families as immature and no longer pertinent.  
  6. Capitalized – at this point, the recruiter has convinced your child that life is better somewhere else and a plan is placed for your child to leave home. Once away from you, the trafficking starts and the retrieval of this child goes down to 1 or 2 percent.

It’s important to realize that by the time you reach step 6, your child “willingly” runs away but the real issue is your child was never truly in control of this decision and the outcome. Their immaturity and the parents’ naivety all work to the predator’s advantage.

But we can all stop being naive. We can know the signs, know who your child is talking to, question everyone, and invest in your ability to protect the child and her abiltiy to protect herself. Share stories with your young children about the risks of running away and how predators lure childen away and why. A lot of this is achieved through simple education and awareness. Talk to your kids. Talk to other family members. Talk to your school and do whatever possible to protect your children and all children. Every one of these children is worth the thought and conversation.

Resources to know:

For more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston, go to crime-stoppers.org and follow Crime Stoppers on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Email her directly at [email protected]. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter. Read past Sundays with Rania posts here.

Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

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