Human trafficking is an epidemic that the world is finally opening its eyes to. For many, learning the details about this dark crime is both shocking and heartbreaking. It is a harsh reality to know that trafficking is present not only in developing countries, but also right outside our back door.
As parents, the threat of human trafficking to the safety of our children is the most terrifying. There are two important questions to ask when learning about this danger: how does this happen? What can I do to prevent this from happening within my own family? Knowledge is power, and intentional prevention is protection. Below is outlined what trafficking looks like in the U.S., as well as practical ways to help keep your family safe.
America’s Trafficking Problem
Traffickers come in every age, race, gender, and socio-economic status. However, traffickers are defined by their use of force, fraud and coercion — manipulation tactics they use to ensure their victims to cooperate.
Surprisingly, some of the most convincing traffickers are women. After gaining a young girl’s trust, they paint a picture of a lavish life — financial stability, adoring men, and independence. It is not uncommon for women who were trafficked in the past to become traffickers themselves. This is especially dangerous, however, because female traffickers know precisely what to say to vulnerable young girls.
In the United States, male traffickers often entice girls by forging a relationship with them. They play the part of a loving boyfriend – one who is simply looking out for what is best. These men can also make promises of designer clothing, technology, drugs, and alcohol. They manipulate their victims’ emotions and make them believe they can be trusted. During this process, girls can become isolated from their family and friends and are often left without a support system. Perpetrators then begin to manipulate their lovers into “helping financially” by selling their bodies, or qualifying their affection with statements like “if you really loved me, you would just do this one thing for me.”
According to Kristina Davis of the San Diego Tribune, here are some examples of what one trafficker wrote to a 14-year-old girl, in attempts to persuade her to become a prostitute:
- “Baby don’t think that when I ask you to sell your body I don’t care, ‘cause I do. You know what I think of that. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
- “Stop saying what you ain’t gonna do. Those are the guys who pay hundreds of dollars for just your attention.”
While trafficking can be masked as a romantic relationship, other times it is disguised as a financial opportunity. Young girls are complimented on their beauty and talent and told they could easily become models or actresses. These girls then buy into the idea of fame and money, only to be shocked to find out that they’ve been lied to and taken advantage of. In reality, the opportunities are not glamorous at all, but rather painful and violating.
While traffickers are not limited to any racial, ethnic, gender, or socio-economic category, neither are trafficking victims. Traffickers prey on vulnerability at any level. In the United States, the most vulnerable populations are runaways, throwaways (children whose parents have banned them from their home), LGBTQ youth, foster children, minors who have history of abuse or neglect, and children with unhealthy/unhappy home lives. Typically, these children are looking for any escape to improve their situation. Traffickers take advantage of this desire and manipulate the youth into accommodating their own agenda.
Ways to protect your children
Create an open dialogue about sex and love.
When adolescents don’t receive healthy knowledge about love and sex, they are more likely to be manipulated. Without truthful conversations that allow children to create realistic expectations, they are at risk of a stranger selling them a romanticized reality. Although these conversations might not be comfortable, they are extremely beneficial in the protection and long-term development of your child.
Create a safe word/phrase you kids can use to alert you.
It is not uncommon for children to stay in a potentially unsafe or uncomfortable situation because they are afraid they will get in trouble. To counteract this, create a safe word. The idea is that when that word is used, you will go get them from whatever situation they are in. Give your children the freedom to tell you as much, or as little, as they feel comfortable saying without any repercussions. Examples:
If your child texts you an “X” know that they need you to call them, create a reason to remove them from the situation, and promptly go retrieve them from wherever they are.
Another safe word could be a word used on a regular basis, like “chicken”. If you fear your child might be in danger, calling and asking “Would you like some chicken for dinner?” If the answer is yes, you know you need to take action.
Listen to their friends.
Imagine a scenario in which your child has a best friend with a rough family life. One day, they tell your child “I’m done, I want to run away. Will you come with me?” That is an incredibly hard decision for an adolescent to make. Friendships (especially during critical development years) hold extreme significance to young people. Creating an open and safe environment for your child and their friends to share, fosters a healthier dynamic for your family and those surrounding you, as well as decreases potential risk for trafficking.
Monitor your children’s media.
Predators know how to get to their prey. Traffickers are professionals and they are always adapting with technology. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tinder, and Craigslist are well known forms of media that traffickers are active on. Social media is a huge connection between traffickers and potential victims. Media that can be used in potential trafficking includes all social media, cell phones and email accounts.
We suggest monitoring your children’s media accounts, and/or smart phones.
It is ok for you as a parent to take an active role in knowing the conversations your children are having– protecting them and providing for them is your main job.
We all have a responsibility to take action. Fighting human trafficking requires strategic efforts to combat. Equip yourself and your children with knowledge, and stand together so we can keep one another safe.