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Harboring a minor runaway in California - HELP

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  • Harboring a minor runaway in California - HELP

    Hi all, I’m really shaken up now but I’ll try to make this as concise as possible.

    I am an 18 yr old female, just turned 18 in January. 2 weeks before my birthday, I was in an adolescent mental health facility, won’t go into the details but there I met a 15 year old - we’ll call her Samantha. We bonded through our shared trauma and stayed friends.

    Earlier this evening (April 9) around midnight I get a text from Samantha asking me for help, saying she needs somewhere to stay for the night and that she’s in a dangerous situation. I get her an uber and sneak her into my room, unbeknownst to my family. I give her clean clothes and feed her and then she tells me her story.

    After she was discharged from the mental hospital, her parents kept sending her back because of her depression. Each time she went back, she grew more restless, and the doctors would repeatedly inject her with sedative. She ended up having a seizure and was hospitalized in the ICU. Her heart was already weak to begin with (bad hearts run in her family) and the incessant injections were causing her heart to fail.

    Samantha’s last discharge was March 22nd, and she ran away the next day because her parents said that they were going to send her back to the hospital because they said she was still depressed and that they weren’t going to tolerate it. She bounced from house to house, and now she’s here.

    She is a rape victim and has endured physical abuse in her home. CPS has been involved before, but did not take action because she is a diagonsed schizophrenic, and she says they wrote it off as her making it up because of her illness. She truly does not have anywhere to go, and halfway houses/safe houses have been turning her away because of COVID-19.

    Her parents have contacted her, but only to say to her “you are going to hell” and to send her pictures of her nieces as if nothing is wrong. They have not made an effort to locate her.

    I am looking for help on where to go from here. I’m probably going to have to hide her in my room all day tomorrow until I can figure out if she can go somewhere else, or if we can get her back on her feet or something. Approaching my parents is a potential option, I’m just terrified that they will turn her away and send her out and she’ll be on her own again. I had never seen anybody so small and vulnerable before, and I can’t bear to see her on her own like that. I really need advice on how to help her get somewhere safe.

    But realistically, I know that this is (probably?) textbook definition of harboring a runaway. What kind of trouble could I be in since i’m legally an adult now? (though to be honest, that’s the least of my concerns. getting her somewhere safe is first)

    TLDR: 15 year old friend ran away because of negligent, abusive parents and because sexual abuse in her immediate circle. Claims to have nowhere to go, I’m keeping her in my house tonight and maybe tomorrow until we can figure something out for her. She needs to be safe. She deserves to be safe.

  • #2
    Thank you so much for telling us your story. It sounds like you’re really helping a young person in need. We’re so sorry that this has been so hard for her, she sounds very lucky to have met a friend like you.
    To address your pressing question of legal concerns first: We are not legal experts. We can speak generally on this, but we are not a legal authority, so please take this as what we understand the law to be and not advice. If there’s a runaway report filed with the police by her legal guardians, which is typically when someone would be picked up by police at someone’s residence. Usually the home owner is the person charged with harboring, but again, it’s not always certain. If there is no runaway report (as you’ve said no one is trying to find her), the chances of the police coming to your home and charging you or your parents is low. However, if there is a report and someone knows where she is currently, then it could happen. If you’d like to find out for sure, you could call the local police non-emergency number to ask them questions. If you’re not comfortable making this call yourself, you can call us and we can conference call the police on your behalf.
    It sounds like this person is experiencing what’s called neglect. She deserves to be taken care of and helped by legal guardians or parents. If she is willing, an abuse report could be filed. Neglect can be difficult to prove, however, but we’re happy to answer any questions around that and also conference call with an abuse reporting hotline that might be able to answer questions. Even if she doesn’t want to report abuse, we can help her get her questions answered. It sounds like she’s reported before, so we do not want to pressure her. Sometimes it takes multiple reports to get any action or find something that they can prove.
    It sounds like this situation is very complicated and very difficult. We’re here to help you, however, helping over this format is difficult. If you’d like, you could call us directly, 24/7, at 1-800-RUNAWAY (786-2929). You could also Live Chat with us at if speaking on the phone is too risky at this point with your parents being unaware of your friend at your home. We’re here to help, not judge or tell you what to do. If you’d like, you could have your friend contact us instead so we can try to work with her and see what she is willing to do.
    Best of luck and thank you again,

    Please remember you can reach us directly by calling our 24 hour hotline, 1-800-RUNAWAY (786-2929) or through our Live Chat.

    National Runaway Safeline
    [email protected] (Crisis Email)
    1-800-RUNAWAY (24 Hour Hotline)
    Tell us what you think about your experience!


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