In November, the Auburn Police Department will recognize National Runaway Prevention Month.
Nationwide, between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away each year. These statistics are a reflection of our community. In 2007, there were 29 police investigations into missing or runaway youths in Androscoggin County. These investigations involved persons ages 13 to 18. In 2008, the figure slightly rose to 33 investigations, and 51 in 2009.
The purpose of National Runaway Prevention Month is to raise awareness about issues facing teen runaways and to educate the public about their role in runaway solutions and prevention.
Are we sure we know who is a runaway and who is not? A young person’s outward appearance may be clean and well-kept; however, many teens are not living at home with their families. In many cases, some have moved in with a friend or are couch-surfing. In a few extreme cases, teens are living in shelters, and out of their vehicles, brushing their teeth in the bathrooms at gas stations.
These teens are at an extreme risk of being tempted by drugs and alcohol, sexual promiscuity, dropping out of school and, sometimes, prostitution and human trafficking.
It is estimated that between 240,000 and 325,000 children are at risk of sexual exploitation each year in the United States. Children who are considered runaways are at particular risk of prostitution or trafficked into the sex industry.
Runaways feel like they are out of options. Many are overwhelmed and have a sense of losing control of an aspect of their lives. Running away is sometimes a means of taking back control.
Professionals who work with runaways must identify the root of the problems and find solutions. A major factor in prevention is recognizing some of the most common warning signs. These are often symptoms of long-term problems that have progressed and are reflected through behaviors and actions.
The following have been factors in most runaway situations:
— Lack of parental involvement.
— Ongoing conflict with a parent or guardian.
— Domestic violence / family trauma.
— Sexual abuse.
— Substance abuse.
Teen runaways have been on the rise in recent years. The safety of our youths rests with combined efforts of the police, schools, friends, families and parents. If you are a parent, friend or family member to a teen who runs away, call the police. It is imperative that the needed information gets entered into the police database.
If it is determined that the runaway was fleeing an unsafe/unfit environment, resources will be drawn to address that matter.
The following was written by a young runaway:
I ran away a few months ago. At that time I was 13. I am a very angry and sad person. I grew up without a father and sometimes was made fun of for it. I was very poor for a long time and lived in the ghettos and homeless shelters of a lot of different cities. My mama’s boyfriends and husbands were all very mean and there was always fighting in the house in front of me and my sister.
About three years ago, my mom left her last husband and had a couple boyfriends after that. When I was 12, my sister moved out of the apartment. All the anger and frustration that my mama had, she took out on me. I tried to express my feelings to my mama, but she just got mad.
So, finally, I just run away. It was so hard to survive. I broke into many “for sale” houses just to sleep in them. I was over-exhausted and starving. I had to sell drugs to get money. The person that lent me the drugs got angry and tried to shoot me because I owed him money. Then I got in an argument with a boy, and he also tried to shoot me. I was raped twice. I found out I was pregnant, but I lost the baby. I was constantly running from the cops for all different things. I have barb wire scars all over my legs from running at night. I started getting really sick from lack of food, sleep and the dirty places I slept.
I finally got arrested and the police called my mama to pick me up. I still feel like running away sometimes and I have nightmares of the stuff I went through. I’m just lucky I didn’t die. I just needed to talk about my experiences. I sometimes wish for a different life, but I am who I am for a reason.
— Written by an unknown teen runaway.
Don’t be a story. Please contact your local police department for resources.
Officers Matt Tifft, Bernie Mowatt and Tom Poulin are the Auburn Police Department’s school resource officers.
The screams and anger and violence in my home, the sound of glass hitting the wall after being thrown.
The cursing language and vulgar exchange of words, I beg for it to stop but my pleadings aren’t heard.
I sit in a dark, empty corner crying to myself; if only I could be happy perhaps somewhere else.
I come to the point where I blame and hate myself for all this misery.
But what if I could leave all this behind and erase my past memory?
So I’m through with all this I come to say, I pack my belongings and I’m on my way.
I’ve been on my own since that day,
A young, unhappy, lost runaway.
Written by an unknown teen runaway