TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — In light of Human Trafficking Awareness Month KGUN9 took a look at the impact of what’s happening with runaways during the pandemic and how families can get help.
Kelly Tanner with Arizona Youth Partnership says she has always wanted to make it her life’s work to help runaway teens who are struggling with the darkness in their lives and her job as a director at the non-profit allows her to do exactly what she believes in.
"The services that we provide are we have a runaway and homeless youth program. We serve youth 12 to 17, boys and girls in separate settings,” Tanner said.
Since the start of the pandemic the dynamics and stressors of the home are changing and causing some kids to run to the streets. The non-profit works with teens to give them a place to stay, medical and emotional support and the tools needed to get back on rack. Experts say most runaways make their move during the summer.
"The number one reason for running away is family dynamic. It can be anything from emotional, verbal abuse to sexual abuse. It might be a divorce and mom or dad may have a new partner and the child doesn’t know how they fit in so they take off,” Tanner said.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children there are at least 265 kids currently missing in the state of Arizona and missing person’s calls from across the nation are up 10% compared to last year.
“The pandemic caused a lot of turmoil in families economically, emotionally and then add any sort of substance abuse or dual diagnosis even parents that can’t work and then it becomes a desperation,” Tanner said.
Tanner says at least 40% of runaways are approached by sex traffickers within 48 hours of being on the streets, but the web is still the number one method.
“They’re called Romeo pimps and basically, they’re grooming young people if they’re bored or depressed a Romeo pimp may spend hours talking to them. They shower them with compliments then it turns into gifts and all of those things can be very alluring,” Tanner said.
We’re also told the key to getting kids off the streets is resources and counseling to help heal the child and family.
Once a child goes back home it’s not over, children’s services, police and other entities are involved in the case.
"Law enforcement sees it as a cry for help and that triggers usually a call to the Department of Child Safety. We also try our best to get the family involved in some sort of counseling,” Tanner said.