What Every Parent Needs to Know About Child Sex Trafficking
Child Sex Trafficking-Not My Child
Mom shakes her head and Dad raises his voice. Their 16-year old daughter storms up the stairs. As the bedroom door slams, she collapses on the bed with phone in hand. She’s ready to vent her frustrations one status update at a time.
With every angst-laden tap of the keyboard, she lays bare her soul:
“Nobody here gets me.” “No one understands!” “I feel unloved.”
An hour later, a boy from the next town over reaches out. She doesn’t know him, but they’ve got a few mutual friends, so it’s probably no big deal. He’s cute and thoughtful. And, he seems to understand what she’s going through better than anyone else.
For the next two weeks, they exchange messages every day. He’s sweet, a digital shoulder to cry on when nobody else seems to care. They decide to meet up in person, so she borrows Dad’s car “to meet some friends at the mall.”
That night, Daddy’s little girl doesn’t come home for dinner and Mom sits up all night. The next morning, they call the police. An officer searches her computer and finds evidence of the girl’s new relationship. Turns out, the boy she thought she knew didn’t exist.
And, just like that, she’s gone.
Reality check about child sex trafficking
At ERASE, we hear heartbreaking tales like this all too frequently. Stories from average families dealing with everyday stresses when out of nowhere, their child is lured right out from under them.
Whenever we tell these stories, the most common response goes something like this:
“Child trafficking is something that happens to those types of kids out there. We live in a great community and our neighbors are good people who look out for one another. Something like that could never happen to one of my children.”
This is the kind of response that makes us cringe. If only parents knew what we know, they wouldn’t be so quick to ignore this real and pervasive threat. Sadly, that very ignorance is what traffickers count on most when looking for children to target.
The danger is far more imminent than most parents recognize. If we’re going to protect our children, we need to be clear on the real threats child traffickers impose.
Traffickers are Smart, Motivated, and Tech-Savvy
A dark and horrific market has grown up around the purchase and sale of human beings. Researchers estimated that, in 2007, Atlanta’s underground sex economy alone brought in $290 million. Even in a far less “saturated” market, sex trafficking in San Diego enables a pimp to pull in over $11,000 per week.
Fast forward 10 years and there’s no reason to think that number hasn’t grown.
Innocent children aren’t given a pass here. Instead, the most vulnerable among us are routinely bought and sold like property—many of them up to 15 times a day. With business booming, traffickers are working harder than ever to keep up with demand. Leaving no stone unturned, they use social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, to research, target, and groom children for sexual exploitation. In fact, 77% of sex trafficking victims report having been initially approached online.
Just as a skilled marketer uses sophisticated keyword searches to identify his audience, traffickers monitor social media for anything at all that would suggest an easy target:
- Children with social media profiles open to public viewing
- Teenagers posting introspective status updates about feelings of insecurity
- Boys and girls who are venting about arguments with their parents
Like a lion crouched in his thicket, a predator will scan through lines of text looking for vulnerable children to drag off into the tall grass. How many of those lines will have come from one of your children?
Yes, your child can be a victim of sex trafficking
The children that traffickers rip from their happy homes aren’t pretend characters on television or disembodied faces from the evening news. They’re our kids, the ones we work hard to raise and the ones we hope to see grow up happy and healthy.
They’re the kids we teach to be smart, to mind their surroundings, and never talk to strangers. And yet, we give them free reign to explore every dark corner of the internet via their cell phone.
We must do better
Little more than half of parents closely monitor their children’s online activity. So, when a stranger asks to connect on Snapchat, it’s nearly an even shot that no one will be looking over that kid’s shoulder. You can count on a child trafficker to take that bet.
Do you know which platforms your children are using or who they connect with online? Do they have any secret accounts and how would you find out if they did? If someone asked to meet in person, would they do it? Can you be sure?
These questions may seem intrusive and even overbearing. However, considering the reality of child trafficking in the United States, we have to ask these questions. Every day, thousands of children disappear into slavery. We’d like to hope our kids could never be victims but the facts simply don’t allow us that option. Understanding the facts of child trafficking is the first and most important step in prevention.
There is Hope
Good people around the world are standing up and fighting back against this great moral evil. You don’t have to live in constant fear for your children. The story we shared at the beginning of this post doesn’t have to be your story. And with some common sense and the will to step intentionally into your kids’ digital lives, you can protect them from becoming a victim of sex trafficking.
The question is: will you?
At ERASE, we want to educate parents on how best to protect their children from online predators. Please take a look at our tips and best practices pages to see how you can teach your children to be safe online.