You know I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do,
and it’s breaking my heart in two,
cause I never want to see you sad girl,
don’t be a bad girl,
but if you want to leave take good care,
hope you make a lot of nice friends out there,
but just remember there’s a lot of bad and beware…
– Cat Stevens, Wild World, 1970
Willful Transgression: Into the Wild World
Eve and Red and Alice were not incorrigible juvenile delinquents, they were good, well-mannered, obedient girls, naïfs whose innocence left them unprotected and vulnerable to temptation. They were lured from the path into transgression by forces outside themselves—a serpent and a wolf and a rabbit—and not through any deliberate defiance of their own. But what about the rebels whose waywardness is willful? What about the runaways: the daring girls who are drawn to danger, the mistreated or neglected daughters who are driven away by impossible family circumstances, the dreamers who can envision another life, another self, in another world, more glamorous and more exciting than what they’ve found at home.
The United States Children’s Defense Fund cites that approximately 1,200 kids from every socio-economic circumstance run away from home each day. One youth in seven will run away at least once before the age of eighteen. Covenant House, the largest privately-funded childcare agency in the United States provides safe haven and service to runaway youth, sheltering an estimated 2,000 kids every night of the year, and almost half of those are girls. Girls abused, girls abandoned, girls lost, girls with big dreams.
In addition, most callers to the Defense Fund’s switchboard are girls, with an average age of 16, and the majority of those callers identify family dynamics as their main reason for leaving. Family dynamics in this context includes divorce, remarriage, step and blended families, problems with family rules, both physical and sexual abuse, discipline, or problems with siblings. Often kids leave home to remove themselves from an immediately painful situation, but most have made no plans for where to go or what to do next.