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Missing child alert system could curb sex trafficking

Carrie Coppernoll Modified: April 18, 2013 at 12:40 pm •  Published: March 7, 2013

Photo of Representative Dorman, JoeThis came out of the state House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon:

Legislation approved unanimously today by the Oklahoma House of Representatives would aid in the recovery of missing children and could help with law enforcement efforts to curb sex trafficking, according to the bill’s author.

House Bill 2227, by state Rep. Joe Dorman, would create a statewide runaway child alert system to be activated on behalf of a missing or runaway child. The legislation was approved by a vote of 94-0 and now advances to the state Senate, where it is being sponsored by state Sen. Mike Schulz (R-Altus).

“Although we have an Amber Alert system, that system has many restrictions and does not address some instances when a child has gone missing,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we see over 800,000 kids annually reported missing nationwide, with about 200,000 of those proven to be abductions by a family member and almost 58,000 abductions done by a person with no relation to the child. This legislation will help with efforts to further curb sex trafficking and to locate missing children who are not covered by the existing Amber Alert system.”

State Rep. Harold Wright, a co-author, offered a successful amendment to the legislation, renaming it after JaRay Wilson, a missing teenage girl who police believe was the victim of human trafficking. The legislation will now be known as the JaRay Wilson Runaway Child Alert System Act.

“I am a proud supporter of this legislation which would address missing and runaway children who currently fall through the cracks,” said Wright, R-Weatherford. “JaRay Wilson is a good example of the type of case this bill would address and I was pleased to be able to offer the amendment.”

The legislation specifies that the system would be used when a law enforcement entity receives notice of a missing or runaway child age 17 or younger and verifies the accuracy of the report. The bill encourages family members provide a photograph of the child, if one is available, and that runaway child alerts be reported to the national crime information center immediately. Alerts would be terminated as soon as the child is located or after the notification period ends, as determined by rules promulgated by the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.

“I worked hard with the Department of Public Safety, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and the Office of Juvenile Affairs to get the language of this bill to a point where we think this will have the most effective impact,” said Dorman. “I think distributing the photo of the child is especially important, along with making sure the information is distributed at a national level.”

Dorman said he is working with state agencies to develop a voluntary database of cell phone numbers for law enforcement officers, who would receive the alert via their phone.

“When a student is a runaway, they are oftentimes not breaking any law, especially if it is during the summer and there is no truancy issue,” said Dorman. “We have also worked with law enforcement to make sure this is not an unfunded mandate to hold the runaway until a parent or guardian arrives. In addition, we have made certain this bill addresses incidents in which a child might be fleeing a harmful environment and that the child will not be returned to a dangerous home due to an exit interview conducted by proper authorities.”

Dorman said he has been in contact with individuals who have told him that much of the information that is shared with other states is not distributed efficiently.

“Families have contacted me to help them with out-of-state agencies regarding runaways,” said Dorman. “I feel we have developed a program that could be a model for other states so that we can get information distributed from state to state as quickly as possible in order to get a child home before something harmful happens. Time is the most critical factor in helping to locate and return a child to safety before they become a victim of sex trafficking or murder.”


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