By Bethany Albert, Guest Voice
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), is a private, (501)(c)(3) nonprofit organization which was created in 1984. The mission of the organization is to serve as the nation’s resource on the issues of missing and sexually exploited children. The organization provides information and resources to law enforcement, parents, children including child victims, as well as other professionals.
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children was born in a time of tragedy. In 1979, six year old Etan Patz disappeared from a New York street corner on his way to school and was never seen again. Twenty-nine children were abducted and murdered in Atlanta, Georgia. And in 1981, six year old Adam Walsh was abducted from a Florida shopping mall and found brutally murdered. There were others. As a result of the murder of his son, John Walsh, most recognizable as the host of America’s Most Wanted, founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which was opened by President Ronald Reagan in a White House Ceremony in 1984. The national 24-hour toll-free missing children’s hot-line 1-800-THE-LOST opened as well.
In 1984, police could enter information about stolen cars, stolen guns, and even stolen horses into the FBI’s national crime computer – but not stolen children. That is no longer the case. More missing children come home safely today and more is being done today to protect children than any time in the nation’s history. An estimated 800,000 children are reported missing each year – more than 2,000 children every day. Most of these are family abductions, but about 115 annually are cases where a stranger abducts a child to kill or keep. NCMEC has assisted law enforcement in the recovery of more than 178,000 children, raising the recovery rate from 62% in 1990 to 97% today. Since it was established by Congress in 1984, the organization has operated the toll-free 24-hour national missing children’s hotline which has handled more than 3.6 million calls. The organization’s CyberTipline has handled more than a million reports of child sexual exploitation and its Child Victim Identification Program has reviewed and analyzed more than 22,983,300 child pornography images and videos.
Today, law enforcement is better trained, better prepared, and responds more swiftly and effectively than ever before. There is better law and better technology. Parents are more alert and aware. Yet there are still thousands of children who do not make it home each year, and more who fall victim to sexual exploitation.
I was nine years old when my family crowded around our twelve inch television to watch Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission hold up chains he had taken off a child slave in India. It was the first time I realized that there were children my age that weren’t allowed to go to school, but instead worked fourteen hour days in brick kilns to pay off generations of family debt designed to keep them enslaved.
My family’s involvement in anti-trafficking provided an environment that created my passion for social justice and instilled the Biblical instruction “to seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17).
The mission of NCMEC is to serve as the nation’s resource on the issues of missing and sexually exploited chil-dren. NCMEC operates a 24/7 hotline reporting system for missing children (1-800-THE-LOST) When a report of a missing child is made, NCMEC swings into action, issuing Amber Alerts, distributing photos, providing support to families, and offering technical assistance in the form of lawyers and retired law enforcement volunteers. Believing in never losing hope, the Center works on cold cases and the forensic imaging team creates age progression photos. NCMEC also has a training center to provide law enforcement with investigative skills needed to respond to missing and exploited children cases.
There is also a team of staff that works with U.S. Marshals to track noncompliant sex offenders. Additionally, NCMEC operates the CyberTipline, the national reporting mechanism for child sexual exploitation. Analysts in the Child Victim Identification Program work to identify the children and work with law enforcement to res-cue the child and bring the perpetrators to justice.
Preventative programs include http://www.NetSmartz.org, a free, interactive, online education resource for chil-dren, teens, parents, educators and law enforcement. First and foremost, it is vital for parents and guardians to talk to their children about safety, strangers, and what do if someone attempts to abduct them. Resources are available at http://www.missingkids.com.
What drew me to my job? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is a high integrity, high quality organization that does unique and valuable work and I am honored to be serving there. Honestly, I walked past the building and wondered if they had any job openings. I checked online and there was an opening in fundraising, a department where I had internship experience and knew I had skills in, so I sub-mitted my resume. I’m grateful that my passion and work collide at this organization. I work in the develop-ment department, that is, fundraising. I manage our state and federal employee giving campaigns, which in-volves a lot of applications and organizing volunteers and preparing for events. I try to stay on top of the news regarding cases and talk with donors. I also reconcile our donor databases with accounting, maintain our system, and issue tax receipts.
The most memorable moment for me working here was meeting seven year old Brittany Baxter, a girl whose attempted abduction in a WalMart store was captured on video surveillance tape (http://www.cbsatlanta.com/story/16770195/girl-speaks-out-after-man-tries-to-kidnap-her). When I turned away after meeting this little girl I just cried. This precious, precious child, cute as a button, was so close to becom-ing a missing child. Instead, she kicked and screamed until the stranger who grabbed her from toy aisle put her down. He was tracked down and arrested. Brittany credits her parents and teachers with educating her about how to react when a stranger tries to take you or lure you. Just a few days before the attempt, her older brother had also showed her what to do to “bad guys.” And when it came down to it, that very likely saved her life.
Aric Austin was abducted from his mother by his biological father when he was just six weeks old. A U.S. De-partment of Education Special Agent came into contact with Aric twenty two years later while investigating a fraud case involving student loans and a forged birth certificate. Sensing something suspicious, she visited NCMEC’s website (www.missingkids.com) to look at photos of missing children.
The agent recognized Aric from the age-progressed photo NCMEC’s forensic imaging unit created using his infant photo and pictures of his father. He was reunited with his mother twenty two years after he had gone missing.
In this kind of environment, where the words “we found her” can mean joy or tragedy, you have to hold on-to the successes; when a sex offender is put behind bars, when a child is rescued from a situation where they are being exploited, when you hear a survivor like Elizabeth Smart or Jaycee Dugard talk about empowerment.
There has been an increasing focus on Internet safety in recent years at the Center. Our CyberTipline has received over a million reports. Online enticement, misleading domain names, and sexual extortion are ram-pant into today’s society where kids are more technologically literate than parents. An example of this is the recent case of 15 year old Amanda Todd, whose video testimony of cyber bullying and sextortion went viral after her suicide in October.
NCMEC’s program NetSmartz, at http://www.netsmartz.com, serves as a resource for educating parents, teachers, and youth about Internet safety. Another education program, Take 25, is a national public awareness cam-paign implemented during the month of May each year as part of National Missing Children’s Day activities. The focus of the campaign is to encourage parents to take 25 minutes to talk to their children about safety and abduction prevention.
My advice to young job seekers: do what you like. If there’s an organization or a cause you want to work for, don’t try to fit yourself in a different box to be there. If you enjoy graphic design, don’t become a lawyer be-cause you want to pursue justice – become a marketer and help an organization communicate its cause.
Nonprofits need computer engineers, storytellers, MBAs, accountants – there is no one path to serving an organization like this. It is even better to develop your true interests and skills outside of nonprofits rather than do something you don’t like for a cause you care about. This might mean spending a few years else-where before bringing those skills to a nonprofit.
Also, intern, intern, intern. In college, I first interned for Village Volunteers doing research projects on nutri-tion and sustainability in developing nations; I found this organization from a nonprofit career fair at the University of Washington. The next internship, grant researching for Global Breakthrough, I heard about through a listserve email through my major’s department. Use your university’s resources and try different roles to figure out what you enjoy and what you’re best at. This will enable to you to have a fulfilling career doing the most good.