Today is National Missing Children Day.

About 800,000 children younger than 18 are reported missing each year, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. That’s an average of more than 2,000 sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters and cousins each day. About 80 percent are runaways who return home within hours or days, the center says, but the other 20 percent may be gone for weeks, months, years or forever.

In Cleveland, we saw how severe this problem can be, with the three women who were abducted 10 years ago and then allegedly raped many times over the course of the decade. Law enforcement needs to do a better job in finding missing children. So, too, do the media.

Unfortunately, the media often sensationalize a handful of cases in which sketchy parents are involved or the circumstances are especially perverse.

But all missing children need attention, and the parents of every single one of them need to know that we’re doing all we can to find their loved ones. Local and national media must act swiftly to disseminate images and descriptive information on missing children so anyone who may have seen them — in questionable circumstances with adults or in situations where they seem out of place or in danger — can contact law enforcement immediately.

Today, most people are walking around with a direct link to news in their mobile phones and can share links and post information on missing children on social networking sites.

Prompt and widespread coverage — local, national, television, web and social media — can have a direct impact on a developing case. A prime example is Mishell Green, who was missing for about six months. Eighteen minutes after Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, appeared on “The View” to discuss the case, the organization received a call indicating where the 16-year-old was.

Children who are runaways are especially vulnerable to victimization. They have to feed themselves and clothe themselves, and are susceptible to someone offering them shelter and money as a way to lure them into prostitution and human trafficking, which are more widespread than the public realizes.

Of those children who are abducted, females, ages 11-17, are most likely to be victimized.

In our 24-hour news cycle, media executives must make more time to report on missing children. The media has a responsibility to save lives, too.

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams writes about current issues for the Progressive Media Project. This column was distributed by MCT Information Services.

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