31 Jan Protecting Your Children from Human Trafficking
There are school drills for active shooters. Parents have been educated on the opioid crisis. We know to warn our children that vaping is no healthier than smoking. But there is a danger that exists in every town and city that targets our youth and goes largely undiscussed: human trafficking.
You can learn what puts people at particularly high risk of being trafficked, but, when anyone is vulnerable, everyone is vulnerable. Once a profitable business exists, the people making money will find the supply to fill the demand.
The Dangers of Social Media
Between 2000 and 2021, 55% of sex trafficking victims in the United States were recruited online using social media, messaging platforms, and dating apps. In 2020—when the world shut down and children were suddenly accessing the internet in record numbers to attend school—trafficking skyrocketed. On Facebook, recruitment increased 125% year over year. On Instagram, 95%. Rachel Thomas, now CEO of Ending the Game and on Empower Her Network’s board of directors, was trafficked as a high-performing college student by a man who gave her a chance to be in a music video. How many college kids do you know who would turn down that invitation? If you have a kid at home longing to fit in, or go on a first date, or get on television, sex trafficking might suddenly feel like it hits a little closer to home. Really pay attention to what they have access to, how they’re using what they have access to, and who they’re connecting with.
Stranger Danger & Blackmail
In September, I listened to a survivor speaker who was trafficked by the track coach at her local, rural high school. She said, “We talk to our kids all the time about stranger danger, but we also need to talk to them about tricky people.” As parents and trusted grownups, awareness is key to positive change. From a very young age, say things like, “We obviously consider all our friends and family and teachers and coaches to be good people, but if any of them do something bad to you, tell us right away. We will always believe you.” And also: “If someone says that if you tell us what they’re doing, they’ll hurt me and daddy, or they’ll tell us something bad they know you did—they are full of baloney. You need to tell us right away. Dad and I will be fine. You won’t get in trouble. They are just trying to trick you. As long as you tell us, we can fix it.”
Supporting Self-Confidence and Self-Worth
As they get older, get more specific. “Even if someone had a video of you on drugs having sex and threatened to show it to us if you don’t do XYZ, you need to know—whatever it is—you won’t lose us. You could never lose us. Always let us help you.”
As a society, we focus on academic and sporting achievements, and those are important things, but I’d posit that the most important thing your children can have when they leave your home is self-confidence and self-worth. I watched a documentary where a trafficker described how he’d watch groups of girls hanging in malls. He’d look for the one who seemed uncomfortable and uncertain. He’d approach with a basic compliment such as, “You look good in those jeans.” If she shot back hard—I know, I don’t need you telling me I look good—then he’d keep looking, but if she lit up, if she said something like, “Really? You think so?” then it was game on.
Having an open dialogue about tricky people, lifting your children up, making them aware, educating them on the realities of what lurks online and how to protect themselves—these are all simple steps to protect our youth from the vulnerabilities that lead to exploitation.