Sex trafficking takes place when individuals are forced to perform sexual acts. Children and young adults are especially vulnerable to this type of sexual exploitation. According to estimates, over 2 million children are taken into sex trafficking each year. In an effort to fight against this global crisis and protect children from human trafficking, parents and family members can play a vital role in preventing sex trafficking by recognizing the warning signs and educating their children on the potential dangers.
Recognizing the Red Flags
Sex traffickers are skilled manipulators and often remain anonymous, meaning anyone can be a predator. It’s difficult for law enforcement and everyday civilians to identify sex traffickers, but evidence indicates that traffickers more often take advantage of individuals who are already vulnerable. The National Human Trafficking Hotline suggests that people or groups who face generational trauma, childhood sexual abuse, historic oppression, discrimination, and other societal factors, like the LGBTQ+ community and people of color, are at a greater risk of experiencing human trafficking. Individuals may be at risk of human trafficking if they:
Are homeless or live in an unstable home environment.
Are experiencing great economic need or are impoverished.
Are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Children are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking as newer generations are spending more time on the internet, more specifically, social media platforms. Predators often use fictional personas or fake user profiles to connect with and relate to young people online. Predators may target individuals who they identify as vulnerable with the purpose of grooming them, by manipulating them into sharing personal information or arranging to meet in person. Sex traffickers will identify your child’s interests, hobbies, and aspirations and use this knowledge to their advantage. An example of a sex trafficker connecting with a potential victim online could be enticing the victim with a modeling job or photoshoot.
As your children grow up, attend college or move out, it’s important to pay attention to any new or unusual behaviors your child exhibits. Meeting new people, making friends, and developing new hobbies are normal and healthy ways your child is broadening their horizons and discovering more about themselves. If your child begins experimenting with drugs or alcohol, or participates in other risky behaviors, they could be at a greater risk of being involved in sex trafficking. Warning signs that indicate your child may be targeted by human traffickers include:
Possessing material items, like money, clothes, or a cell phone, that you did not provide.
Posting sexually explicit content on the internet.
Showing signs of physical abuse.
Participating in criminal activities, like stealing.
Socializing with older adults, including someone who is considered a “boy/girlfriend”, “partner” or a “boss.”
Intervening and Preventing Sex Trafficking
Parents need to be vigilant about educating their children about the risks associated with human and sex trafficking. Creating a space for open dialogue with complete transparency surrounding these risks establishes a level of trust between you and your child. Open communication also helps your child realize they can come to you for anything, and in turn you’ll help them understand what to look out for in certain situations that could be dangerous or involve sex trafficking.
There are a number of steps parents can take to prevent their child from becoming victimized by sex traffickers. Early intervention and education is key. Teaching your child about safe social media practices, like not engaging with strangers or offering private information online, can help them stay safe while using their phones and devices.
Another step parents can take in educating their children includes being completely transparent about the dangers of drug and alcohol misuse. Being under the influence, especially in situations with strangers or in unfamiliar places, can make your child vulnerable to predators involved in sex trafficking schemes.
Sex traffickers are more likely to take advantage of vulnerable people, so staying hyper vigilant while also having fun is an important message to relay to your child. It’s important to travel with one or more friends, and not to leave a location with a stranger while under the influence. With cases of Uber sexual assault reports on the rise, communicate with your child safe ways to travel home, like with a sober friend or in a group. As your child grows older, it’s also important to reinforce the idea of safe sexual boundaries, and that they shouldn’t be forced to do anything they don’t want to do.
Addressing the dangers of human and sex trafficking with your child increases awareness so they can live safely and securely. If you or someone you know is a victim of sex trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 or contact Selah Freedom’s intake line at 1-888-8-FREE-ME. Find additional resources for parents here. You can also register for a FREE prevention training at www.selahfreedom.com/events.