Do you know where your child is right now? Do you know who they’re talking to? If you can’t answer those questions, listen up.
There are dozens of runaway cases in Sioux Falls. While some are resolved quickly, others can take a dangerous turn.
Have you ever noticed those yellow signs outside a fire department or police station; the ones that say “Safe Place”? These bright stickers are meant to be a symbol of protection for people looking for security.
For young people, they’re a signal that an adult will be there to help out.
“So when a youth goes to one of those Safe Places, they can tell an employee hey I need some help. They can say I need a safe place, but they can just kind of reach out for help and those employees know to call Family Crisis right away,” said Melissa Jungemann, Runaway and Homeless Youth Services Coordinator for Volunteers of America.
Jungeman’s team is responsible for getting kids back with their families, if it’s a safe situation. Many times, it’s not so simple.
“It’s not just I didn’t get my Nikes. I didn’t get the pair of jeans I wanted. It’s safety is not there. Maybe some abuse. Maybe some fighting at home and some not security at home,” said Jungemann.
If a young person finds themselves in a situation like this, they can seek out those yellow signs. Usually they’re posted at law enforcement centers, but that’s not all.
Every city bus and the depot are considered Safe Places. As well as a unique downtown shop, Vishnu Bunny Tattoo.
“All of us or most of us at one point or another had not wanted to be where we were at. We’re all at one point or another a runaway,” said Brian Gochal, Vishnu Bunny Tattoo shop manager.
Gochal says being misfits themselves, these tattoo artists make the perfect resource for at-risk kids.
“The primary directive here is be nice to everyone. Be kind to everyone. That’s kind of Jeff Mann, the owner’s guiding light is to be nice to everyone. This fits that message. If you need some place to go, at the very least you’re welcome through our door. You’re not going to stay here but we’ll find where you need to go,” Gochal said.
With some training, background checks and signage, the shop is ready to help out.
So why are so many Safe Places needed? Well, according to human trafficking awareness group, Call to Freedom, a situation can turn dire very quickly for runaways.
“There’s a stat. One in six that run away, within 48 hours are pulled into human trafficking situations,” said Call to Freedom Executive Director, Becky Rasmussen, “If they’re gone, within 48 hours they could take them to another state. If it is a human trafficking situation. Take them to another state, another country and more than likely they’ll never see them again.”
Rasmussen says human traffickers know how to spot a vulnerable child. They can even start convincing them to runaway through online interaction.
“They’ll begin to say, I would never do that to you. I would always love you. I would take care of you and basically begin the process of grooming,” Rasmussen said.
For Volunteers of America, the goal is to prevent fights at home from going this far.
Through communication techniques and finding counseling resources, its goal is to make sure kids and parents can find common ground and create safe, happy homes.
“Parenting is hard. It for sure is, and so maybe they just need some more tools in their tool box, and same for the youth. How can we help you work more with your parents as well,” Jungemann said.
Kids in a bad situation can text the word “safe” and their location to the number 44357. This will show them the closest Safe Place and connect them to someone who will talk with them until help arrives.