As a child that ran away habitually and publicly, I was labeled a problem child. I was scape-goated by my mother so as to deflect responsibility away from her. Painting the runaway child as bad is a common method utilized by abusers. Abusers are masters of control. They know how to manipulate and play their audience; they put on a perfect front. In my case, my mother was publicly engaging and looked like the “mother of the year.” Looking at her outward appearance and behavior, no one would ever suspect that she was anything but perfect. The control she had over me through gas lighting and fear kept me silent. Our neighbors and many family members knew I was constantly running away and yet NO ONE intervened. Most believed my mother when she told them I was being difficult ; sadly, my running away played right into her hands. Unfortunately society still looks at runaways as being rebellious uncontrollable children. People don’t ask themselves why a child runs away - they simple assume the child is bad. It will always boggle my mind that most people don’t make the connection that a child who runs would rather live on the streets - on park benches or abandoned buildings with no food or bathrooms - than be in their warm beds at home.
When a child runs away from home habitually they are running from ABUSE. It may be emotional, physical and/or sexual. Children do not run from functional loving homes. Ignoring these children also creates a supply for the sex trade. 1 in 5 runaways will likely be abducted by sex traffickers. Additionally, the more a child runs away the better they get at staying away.
Here are the stats:
· 46% of runaways reported being physically abused
· 38% emotionally abused
· 17% are sexually abused by a family or household member
*Source: National conference of State Legislature.
GET INVOLVED! We need to save these children before they end up on the street or worse for the long term. Running away is an indicator of ABUSE.
What can you do? I am often asked how to help a runaway. I can only answer with what I wish someone had done for me.
Befriend the child, mentor the child …but do not ask questions at this stage. Build a relationship of trust. Show the child that they matter. Because of the abuse we are experiencing we are being told verbally and non-verbally that we are worthless. We believe this to be a fact. We don’t question it. As a child on the streets, when I ran I actually believed that everyone would forget I ever existed. It was years after my return that I learned how much I was missed and worried about. Very recently, a childhood friend shared with me that he said a prayer for me every day. I cried for days after hearing this. It breaks my heart for myself to know that now. My mother imbedded feelings of worthlessness so deep into my soul …in my whole being that even as an adult it surprised me to find out that anyone cared at all. I truly believed I was forgotten.
Be a safe haven. Once you have built trust begin asking the child why they run. Let them know your conversations are confidential and DO NOT BETRAY THAT TRUST*. It will take time, commitment and restraint. NEVER and I mean NEVER address what is said by the child to the offending parent or relative. They will make the child pay and as a result the child will be silenced – and even less trusting going forward. One of my aunts attempted to intervene and in a well meaning moment said something to my mother. I don’t know what she said, I only know the result: My mother verbally attacked me telling me that my ENTIRE family though I was sick in the head. That I needed a shrink and if I didn’t shut my mouth she would send me to one and then she would have proof as to how sick I was. I never spoke out again.
Unfortunately emotional abuse is difficult to prove. The majority of the abuse I experienced between the ages of 9 and 13 at the hands of my mother was emotional. I can tell you that if someone had consistently been in my corner, a soft place for me to fall … I would have made it through. I ran because I had no one. I ran because I could no longer cope with the abuse. Every day in my mother’s house was like walking through a minefield. If someone had consistently spent time building my self esteem I would have had enough moments of peace to get me through. I would have known that I mattered to someone. When my first step-father was alive I rarely ran. In fact, I only ran when he was out of town. He wasn’t just a buffer between my mother and me; she would still emotionally abuse me when he was at work or worse. He was a stabilizing source, a source of love and affection that I could look forward to. After he passed away my running took flight again -because I had no one.
*Obviously if the child has bruises from physical abuse or reports sexual abuse law enforcement and/or social services needs to be called in. Do this in partnership with the child and assure them you will stand by them throughout the process.
The following video is of a basketball coach that saved a child from being sex trafficked by her father. She did EVERYTHING right.