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Public criticism could further hurt missing youth

Over the past couple of years, a handful of local teenagers have caught the public’s attention after being reported missing more than once. When it comes to reports of missing people, Grande Prairie RCMP say every case is unique and taken seriously. Corporal Shawn Graham also warns against making assumptions.

“Regardless of how many times someone has gone missing, their background, lifestyle, anything like that, a missing person’s complaint is given investigative priority. We can’t turn a blind eye to them; we have to have that attitude towards all cases of missing persons.”

There’s no minimum amount of time that needs to have passed before someone can be reported missing, and when they are, Graham says the approach to investigating the disappearance varies based on the information the detachment receives. He adds that media releases can be a tool in finding missing people, but they aren’t always used.

“That’s up to the investigator that’s looking after the missing person, so it’s a step in that process of locating them, getting the information out to get the public’s assistance, because sometimes we rely on the public to help us find missing persons.

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When a teen is reported missing, it’s rarely as simple as them running around with friends. Executive director for Sunrise House Tanya Wald says most youth they see believe they are safer at the shelter or on the street than they are at home.

Wald explains their parents may not be involved, or their home life could include factors like violence, mental health issues, and addiction. It’s also likely that RCMP and Sunrise House are already working with their families and Children’s Services. Wald agrees that making assumptions about why someone is missing could put them at greater risk.

“Perhaps they already have very low self-esteem, so when we put it out there that they’re just out causing trouble or they’re not worth the resources to find them, then we feed into that belief that they have in themselves and then we will push them further out.”

Wald adds that public criticism can make the youth an easier target for predators, which could lead them into the local sex trade. She encourages people to share missing reports without making negative comments.

“If you haven’t seen them, just ignore the missing persons ad; take a look at them and keep your eyes open. We spend so much time trying to decide why they’re missing and get our two cents in that we may miss out on an opportunity to connect with them.”

In some cases, the youth have responded to comments on social media defending themselves, and Wald says feeling attacked could push them further away. Instead, she wants them to feel that people care about them and want them to return to safety.

Sunrise House takes in an average of 100 youth aged 12 to 17 years old a year. The shelter is staffed 24/7 and can be reached by phone (780-539-3287) or text (587-783-2463), but anyone in need can also show up at their door (9309 109 Avenue) for help any time.

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