Where are these girls? As teens go missing in Washington D.C., community fears human trafficking [UPDATED]

UPDATE: March 24, 1 pm ET

The Congressional Black Caucus is urging the FBI and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to help solve the 22 unsolved missing persons cases in Washington D.C. as of March 22, according to Fox News. The majority of the missing people are juveniles of African-American descent.

Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond, D-La., and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton reportedly sent a letter addressing Sessions and FBI director James Comey earlier this week, calling on the government to take seriously what many see as an increasingly sinister pattern of unsolved disappearances among black teens in our nation’s capital — one that has been too long ignored by the mainstream media.

The letter, which was first obtained by the Associated Press (AP), calls on the government officials to “devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.”

Meanwhile, D.C. police continue to maintain that the rash of disappearances should not be causing undue alarm, claiming that there is no significant rise in missing person cases since the beginning of 2017.

“We’ve just been posting them on social media more often,” Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Rachel Reid reportedly told the Associated Press.

Original story:

As over a dozen teens have gone missing in Washington D.C. since the beginning of the year, community leaders have become concerned that some of these girls may be victims of human trafficking.

Reports on the exact number of missing teens has varied: The Huffington Post reportedly conducted an analysis that found there were still 37 unsolved missing persons cases in D.C. since January involving both girls and boys, all of whom are black or Hispanic. A March 14  column in the Washington Post said that as of that day, 10 teen girls remained missing in the D.C. area.

Earlier this week, NBC News published an interactive map of missing D.C.-area teens, mostly female, whose last locations were known.

Screenshot: NBC News

Among them are 15-year-old Dayanna White, who did not return home from school on March 3 and has not been seen since. Her mother, Dana White-Stevenson, told the Independent Journal Review that she had received minimal support from the Metropolitan Police Department, and that she and her husband have been doing the bulk of the work to find the girl.

Fourteen-year-old Shania Boyd has been missing since March 3. Cherea Payne, 17, vanished on March 17. Very little information about their, and other, disappearances has been made public.

On social media, many have expressed their frustration about the lack of media attention given to these missing black youths, arguing that the disappearance of one white girl can will will often get wall-to-wall coverage while other cases will get ignored.

Social media efforts to mitigate the lack of news coverage on the disappearance does appear to have raised the profile of the missing teens, along with fears that danger is lurking in the nation’s capital. A recent tweet about some of the missing girls received well over 100,000 retweets.

The apparent spike in vanishing girls has raised concerns in the community about human trafficking.

Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the non-profit Black & Missing Foundation, told WAMU that the D.C. area is historically a target for human traffickers, and said the fears of such crimes are more than valid.

“What’s alarming is the number of kids going missing in such a short period of time,” Wilson said,  “and although they have not linked it directly to human trafficking, we can’t dismiss that that’s an issue we face right here.”

Indeed, law enforcement and public officials have downplayed the significance of the missing teen cases.

At a press conference last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said there was “no evidence to suggest an increase in missing persons,” continuing:

The number of missing persons reports has remained constant since 2014. What has changed is our way of getting that information out quickly and the tools that we are using to get that out.

But her comments have done little to calm worried — and angry — residents.

“So to say that is not an uptick in the number of kids that are going missing — to see that 10 children go missing within two weeks,”  Wilson told Fox 5 D.C. “That right there is alarming in itself.”