Approximately 17,000 children in the United States are abducted each year explicitly for the sex trafficking industry. (ERASE Child Trafficking).
In Indiana, “178 kids were reported as victims of human trafficking. Of those, 176 were girls and 150 were between the ages of 14 to 18.” (Attorney General Report on Human Trafficking in Indiana during a panel discussion in Elkhart, 2017).
The National Human Trafficking Hotline emphasizes that “human trafficking victims have been identified in cities, suburbs, and rural areas in all 50 states, and in Washington, D.C.”
The sex trafficking industry is alive and well in our community and it targets our children. Here’s what you can do to keep your kids and others safe.
Know where traffickers prey
The Internet is the number one tool traffickers use today to find new victims. Predators utilize the lack of parental monitoring on social networks to strategize. ERASE Human Trafficking notes that predators often pose as something— a peer, friend or member of the opposite sex — to lure kids into “situations that quickly escalate beyond their control.” Once captured, the child is quickly sold to the sex trafficking industry.
However, predators still conduct their business openly as well. Openly, yet invisibly. Often they are people that seem trustworthy — individuals who live in our neighborhood, local businesses, schools and churches.
Which kids are at risk?
The trafficking industry targets kids anywhere from and 9 and up, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The average age of girls is 13.
According to Sergeant Nikkole Peterson of the Human Trafficking division in St. Paul, Minnesota, there are some characteristics relating to vulnerability that make certain kids a prime target, but emphasizes that “all children online are at risk.”
The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments notes that some of the characteristics seen in many of the children abducted include:
• Lack of personal safety
• Emotional distress
• Family dysfunction
• Substance abuse
• Mental illness
• Learning disabilities
• Developmental delay
• Childhood sexual abuse
• Promotion of sexual exploitation by family members of peers
• Lack of social support
How to protect your children
• Love them
This sounds obvious, but it’s not just about loving your child internally. It’s also how you love your child. Set high standards. Treat your child with respect, honesty and love. Your example should teach them how to distinguish real love from counterfeit.
• Educate them about child abuse
This is one of those tough conversations, but talk to your children about child abuse. Let them know they can talk to you if anyone does hurt them. Keep in mind that if they have already experienced abuse, this opens the door for that unexpected much-needed conversation.
• Educate them about sex trafficking.
Just because we don’t see it or recognize it doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. In fact, it’s the invisibility factor that makes it even more dangerous. Give them specific examples of how predators lure their victims and make sure they question everything, such as a promise to fulfill something they want or an offer of love and attention.
• Educate them on how to use the Internet safely
The Internet is a social playground. Teach them not to share personal information or to accept Facebook requests from people they don’t know. It may go without saying, but say it anyhow: don’t share naked photos of yourself with anyone. And have them agree to talk to someone if they ever feel threatened online.
• Stay engaged
Monitor your child’s social media accounts and take time to meet their friends and their friends’ families. Any relationship that isolates your child is a huge red flag.
Stop trafficking and report it
There are many signs that can help you spot human trafficking around you. The list is too exhaustive to include here, so please take the time to research the signs. This will also help you protect your children because if it is happening around you, then your child is definitely at risk.
A couple of good resources include “Identify and Assist a Trafficking Victim” and “How to Identify the Victims and Perpetrators of Sex Trafficking.“
You can report suspected human trafficking by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.