A week ago, people across the nation (and around the globe) were glued to TVs and computer screens, watching a JiffyPop-like balloon float serenely across the Colorado sky. The gentle image was oddly juxtaposed against the fear and panic felt by many who believed there was an 11-year-old boy trapped inside.
When the balloon landed sans cargo, everyone feared the worst.
Hours later, the boy was found at home, hiding in the attic. We soon discovered that the whole thing was a hoax, contrived by the boy's attention-seeking father who hoped to parlay the incident into a reality TV show.
The nation (and the world) was outraged to learn it had been duped.
But what's more outrageous is that fact that we got so caught up in the drama caused by this little boy, and yet we ignore the very real dangers faced by tens of thousands of boys around the world everyday.
Just this week, the FBI's Innocence Lost Initiative rescued over 50 kids from forced prostitution. A story about 50 kids who were in real danger, who were rescued from serial rape and abuse, was barely a blip on the collective media radar screen. And those 50 are just the ones that could be found, identified and rescued here in the U.S. There are thousands more out there.
In it's 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department cited "boy victims of commercial sexual exploitation" as a topic of special interest. Many, if not most, instances of sexual exploitation go unreported by boys because of cultural and societal stigmas. "The beaches of Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Dominican Republic are host to men seeking sexual encounters with boys who are pimped by men or other boys," the report says.
Those who aren't trafficked for sexual exploitation are subject to slave labor. UNICEF's "Manual to Fight Trafficking in Children" cites a 2000 report from the ILO which estimated that the total number of trafficked children, globally, was 1.2 million.
And an April, 2008 report from Reuters quoted a Chinese newspaper as saying that children were being "sold like cabbages" into slavery. Unless something significant has changed between then and now, those kids are still enslaved.
I don't fault the Heene family for trying to use our overly-eager media and 24-hour news cycle to their advantage. I do, however, think we all need a friendly and stern reminder that there are real balloon boys out there to which the media pay almost no attention at all. If the general public, ordinary people like you and I, don't pay attention and advocate for them, who will?
The Hennes have had their 15 minutes (and then some). Let's turn our attention to boys who are in real trouble, and need real rescuing.