By Madeleine Richey, 16
“Runaway” is a name. It’s a brand of people, some say. It’s a call that lures our youth into the streets “run away!” A lot of people listen to that call and a lot of people assume that name. But they’re not a special brand of people. They’re a lot like you and me. Whether they’re a runaway as a minor, running from home, or as an adult, just picking up and leaving: a lot of people leave home, but there is always a reason. Have you ever known anyone who just disappeared? Ever wondered what became of them? Wonder what became of them, but wonder also, why they left.
A runaway is classified as a minor who has left home without a parent’s or legal guardian’s permission and has not returned within a twenty-four hour window. A throwaway is a person, usually a minor, who has been cast out of their home. Being a runaway is considered a crime in some jurisdictions, but generally not a very serious one that is either punished very lightly with probation, but in other cases not punished at all. However, harboring a runaway is a misdemeanor, a much more serious crime.
Between 1.3 and 1.5 million youth are estimated to be runaways or homeless each year, or so says one estimate. Another claim is that the number is between 1.6 and 2.8 million. In 2003 there were 123, 581 arrests of runaways in the United States. That 123, 581 runaways on the streets, and countless more who weren’t arrested and put into the foster care system or returned to their families. They’re still out there.
According to the National Runaway Switchboard, 47 percent of all teen runaways claim to have been having a dispute with a parent or guardian, 50 percent of teen runaways report that their parents either did not care when they left or kicked them out. Worse than that, though, are the numbers for teens who suffered physical or sexual abuse prior to running away: 80 percent.
Depression often plays a part in forcing a teen, or any individual onto the streets, the illness inhibiting their ability to make proper decisions, and leading to the false assumption that life on the streets would be better than life at home. But look at the numbers; maybe, just maybe, sometimes they’re right.
Life on the streets isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’ll see the movies and books about runaways that lead glamour lives; work their way up, make new friends, escape their troubles. Not true. It’s a shame…but it’s a lie.
On the streets, you have no home, no family, and no place to sleep; you have to beg to get food to eat. A high school diploma is almost essential in finding a job, even the simplest of them. But guess what? There’s a way to survive on the streets. It’s not pretty; it’s not easy; it’s not right. Ever thought of trying prostitution?
Sell your body on the street; risk being beaten, being infected with an STD, or even being killed. Beyond that; be a toy. You’re lower than everyone else. You’re just an object that people will use for their pleasure. As long as they pay, you don’t have a say in what happens to you. They paid for you; for the time they have paid for, they own your body.
It’s ugly, and it’s painful. But sex pays for food. It keeps you alive. Sometimes it’s the only way. So, before you duck out the door, think about it. You may find good people in dark places, but that doesn’t mean you want to be the person in that dark place. Do you want to be homeless; scared, sick, alone, and starving? A prostitute? Nothing is guaranteed on the streets.
Substance abuse is so very common on the streets, just like prostitution. And those are the lucky ones. Imagine that; the lucky ones are the people who have to sell themselves to buy food, or are consumed by want of a drug.
Runaways are searching for something better, but most of the time they don’t find it.
If you know someone who you think is considering running away, or you are thinking of becoming a runaway, remember that running away is not the only option. Call for help: 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929) is free and confidential. Please call it. You don’t have to live this way.
About the Author: “I want to help people and I want to tell stories, especially the stories of people who don’t have a voice of their own. I firmly believe that there are good people to be found, even in the darkest of places. The people who we brand as crazy or criminals, addicts, or damned for homicide or suicide, are people just like you and me. Some of them have faces we recognize–the faces of family and friends, maybe even the face we see when we look in the mirror. I want to share with you the information I have about all these things, so that maybe you can recognize them and walk away from danger or help out a friend who doesn’t see it or saw it too late. We need to be aware of the problems from which our world suffers; if we’re not, we’ll never do anything to fix them.”