SEATTLE — For weeks, media outlets reported on a Bonney Lake teenager who disappeared on May 9 and is safe tonight. But many more teens are still missing, including these three girls whose cases did not receive the same level of attention. All three disappeared around the same time, late April and early May. And they are still missing.
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Kyra Doubek was 15 when she ran away. She does not talk easily about her years as a runaway on the streets of Washington state. It is an experience, she says, that can leave a lifetime of shame, much of it hidden.
"Kids go missing all the time," she says, "and very rarely do they make it actually like into the spotlight, on the news."
She says most teenagers believe they are running towards something better, some place safer. She was asked if they find greater safety when they leave home.
"Very rarely, very, very rarely do youth who run away find a safer place to be," she said. "I didn't that's for sure."
What did she find?
"I found substances," she said. "I found older men who were willing to provide me with a place to stay but there was this unspoken agreement in exchange for a sex act."
Seattle police say on any day, they have 50 to 60 active missing persons cases; about half involve children.
According to the advocacy group REST or Real Escape from the Sex Trade, one in three runaways is recruited by a pimp within 48 hours of leaving home. The average age of these runaways? Just 15 years old.
And most often, says Doubek, they are found by predators trolling the internet even before they leave home.
"They look for these people posting sad posts," she says. "It's not that they're bad kids. As my colleague says they're sad kids, they're not bad kids."
The Washington State patrol posts pictures and information about children missing in this state.
Sixteen-year-old Shianna Victoria Elkins ran away from Mount Vernon on April 19. Elkins is described as a ''chronic runaway.'' Seven days later, Ximena Delgado ran away from her Spokane home. Police believe the 16-year-old is with her boyfriend. Seventeen-year-old Hannah Turkington from Vancouver, Washington, ran away two days after the Bonney Lake teen. Police describe her, too, as a "chronic runaway."
All of it, says Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist, is sobering.
"It isn't just runaways and vulnerable girls who are lured into this world," Lindquist said. "Sometimes these pimps are going after middle class girls as well."
Kyra Doubek finally made it off the streets when she was 26.
"We do get better," she said.
Now she is devoting her life to helping those who have been there, too.
"My whole goal with everything is to hopefully get people to dream again," she said, smiling, "and then help them smash those dreams out of the park."
She wants law enforcement to target men who buy sex from children. Moreover society needs to make the stigma so great they will stop.
And parents, she says, need to give their undivided attention to their children, know the people their children are meeting in person and online.
Cox Media Group