3 On Your Side Investigates the dangers of running away - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Jackson 3/17/09

3 On Your Side Investigates the dangers of running away

By Maggie Wade - bio| email

Jackson, MS - (WLBT) - There's the misconception that children who runaway are thrill seekers, it is a problem that is glamorized with stories like Huckleberry Finn.  But today's runaway faces devastating problems on the streets. There are predators waiting and they know exactly where to look for children who are scared, alone and in desperate need of help. We learn more in this 3 On Your Side Investigation.

We began our search for runaways with Captain Henry Glaze with the Hinds County Sheriff's Department. Jackson's curfew keeps many kids off the streets. Captain Glaze says the one thing runaways don't want is to be noticed.

"Usually when they take off from school, they have a plan. You know, they're with a friend. A lot of times its boyfriend, girlfriend things they go to one or the other's house."

Many skip school and just hang out for the day, but there are others who are lured away from their homes by adults they meet on chat lines.

"A lot of our kids are hooking up with people on chat lines and on the internet, and taking off with people that way, which that begins to be really problematic because they don't know who they're leaving with," said Glaze.

Just a few weeks ago Captain Glaze worked with the FBI and law enforcement agencies throughout the metro area for three days on a nationwide project to focus on the transportation of juveniles to this area.

"We did stuff here at truck stops, motels, anywhere that we might find children being transported and we didn't, we didn't find any in the Jackson area," Glaze said.

48 children were located nationwide in this operation over the 3 day period. Captain Glaze tells us he has found young children working as prostitutes in the Jackson area.

"From our knowledge, I have run across in the last 12 months, I've run across a 15 year old and a 13 year old girl who were prostituting," Glaze told us.

Dr. Mary Sims-Johnson also works with runaways from 12 to 17 years old at the Our House Shelter which is run by Catholic Charities. But she has seen even younger runaways.

"We have seen kids as young as 8," said Sims-Johnson.

Dr. Johnson says last year there were almost 12 hundred runaways in Mississippi. Our House Shelter worked with 166 children and 521 family members. She says children runaway for a number of reasons from trauma such as a death, to incest, physical or sexual abuse, and even economics.

"Kids are actually running to something and typically it's going to be substance abuse, typically we will see pimps or older guys that are attracting them," Sims-Johnson said.

Captain Glaze says economics is one reason children are lured into prostitution and drugs.

"They don't want to give somebody up because they have been told over and over as long as you don't tell them who we are, you're not gonna get in any trouble and we're not gonna get in any trouble and the money is gonna keep coming," Glaze says.

We talked with this 16 year old former runaway. We've agreed to protect her identity. She says disagreements with her grandmother made her leave home. She went to a friends house but ended up at the Henley-Young Juvenile Detention Center when she was located by police and her grandfather.

"I hated it. I didn't like the clothes, the smell, the food, I don't like nothing, nothing about the detention center. It was horrible," she said.

Tara Jones is the Clinical Coordinator at Our House. She says kids can go to a YMCA, the bus station or a fire station for help in this area.

"They are not aware of actually the danger of them being raped, being prostituted out, all of the dangers they are never actually thinking about. It's just an impulse decision they're making," said Jones.

A decision that could cost them their lives.

Two repeat teen runaways were murdered in Jackson in the last two years. This is not just a problem with girls, 30 percent of runaways are males who are also victims of rape, drugs and prostitution.

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