Keep them Safe!
The job of a parent is a tough one. Not only are we busy meeting all of the basic needs: food, clothing, shelter, we also must keep our kids safe and teach them right from wrong. Unfortunately there are so many threats, one of these, sex trafficking, is only now understood to be a growing concern here in the United States. Sex trafficking occurs in the US and all over the world and knowing what to watch for can help keep your child safe from harm.
What is Sex trafficking?
The definition of child sex trafficking is a minor involved in commercial sexual behavior as the result of force, fraud, or coercion. Sex trafficking was thought to only occur in underdeveloped countries but this is simply not true. It occurs in developed countries and is a growing criminal industry in the US. It is difficult to track the exact number of victims of human trafficking due to challenges in data collection. It is believed that there are 3 million victims worldwide and of those over 30% are children.
Here in the US?
Sex Trafficking happens across the globe and right here in Michigan. Michigan is a desirable state for trafficking due its easy access to waterways and country borders. The map below illustrates the potential threats here in the US, red depicting the highest concentration of potential threats. Being aware of location is important in preventing sex trafficking. Look at how red the area around Detroit is!
Who is at risk for trafficking?
In the United States it is possible for trafficking to occur across all demographics. Those most at risk are children 12 to 16 and girls are the larger targets. Sex Trafficking is often thought to only happen in areas of poverty but it is not unheard of for raids to occur in “affluent” neighborhoods where kids go to school during the day and return to their trafficking lives in the evening. Because of their inquisitive and impulsive nature, tweens and young teenagers are the most vulnerable. They have very few life experiences, difficulty controlling impulses, and limited ability to analyze the risks and benefits of situations. Higher risk groups are runaways, kids in foster care, and kids in poverty. Also considered high risk are kids with substance use problems, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, home conflicts, and those who are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender or questioning.
Where does Trafficking occur?
No surprise, the internet is an area that can pose a threat for minors. The internet allows minors to be targeted and then deceived. Other common areas for minors to be targeted are malls, bus stops, playgrounds and gas stations. Social media can also be a concern. The traffickers draw them in and gain their trust through these platforms or in these locations. Over time the relationship shifts and through coercion, threat, force, or lies the teen begins to prostitute him/herself on behalf of the trafficker. When thinking of sex trafficking, it is important to remember that only 5% are the result of kidnappings.
The actual venues for sex trafficking/prostitution are typically hotels/motels, illicit massage/spa shops, and political or sporting events.
How could this happen to my child?
Many of us believe this can’t happen to our child but unfortunately that is not true. In sex trafficking there are “recruiters” that look for vulnerable children. These recruiters will pose as friends, mentors or possibly an older boyfriend/girlfriend. During the recruitment phase the recruiter will make the minor feel good and important. This can be especially appealing during the uneasy time of being a teen. Feeling special is what helps with successful recruitment. The next phase is grooming. This is where isolation and changes in behavior begin. The grooming phase is when the teens are coerced into many abnormal or “out of character” behaviors like stripping for photos and using alcohol or drugs. The minor then becomes seasoned and during this phase they may experience physical or sexual abuse, and substance dependency.
Signs to look for
- Adult showing unusual interest in a child and their life
- Expensive gifts
- Older boyfriend or girlfriend
- Isolation from family and friends
- Controlling behavior, especially with time
- Sexual behavior, provocative dress
- New or increased use of alcohol or drugs.
- Unusual nervousness or anxiety
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Tattoos (branding)
Be sure to keep open lines of communication with your children. Get to know their friends and the parents of their friends. Be aware of the people they are talking to on-line. Please understand that this does not mean you should be hovering over your children but just keeping yourself aware. An overbearing parent can sometimes cause the communication lines to be shut down. Teach your child about sex trafficking and predators. Knowledge is power, including age appropriate knowledge. Reassure them that they can always come to you if they have gotten into an uncomfortable situation that may involve sex trafficking. Ask if they or their friends have ever been offered money or gifts for sex acts or photos. If you fear that someone you know or love may be a victim of sex trafficking please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-7888.