Last week I opened my internet browser in hopes to catch up with the chatter I’d been hearing about North Korea. Instead of reading about the potential threat of a terrorist attack from a foreign nation, my eyes met an article about domestic terrorism. Predators – traffickers – who have waged war against our children.
As soon as the link opened, my eyes met a picture of a girI, 13 years old, grinning with just enough smile to notice small gaps from where her teeth had not quite grown in since loosing her baby teeth. She is so young. Police say she likely ran away from her Washington home with an older boy she had met online.
As I stared at her face, I was thankful that this girl had a fighting chance to be found because at least she had parents that were concerned and present enough in her life to report her missing. But, so many girls in her situation aren’t that fortunate. And even more girls believe that this boy (or man) is the ticket out of her chaotic or lonely world. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Would our teams meet her one day on the streets of Seattle while doing outreach to girls being exploited and sold?”
Sex traffickers target children because of their vulnerability and naïvety. The average age of entry into prostitution is 12 to 14 years old and traffickers – terrorists really – are known to recruit at schools, malls and through social media. Recruitment takes many forms: kidnapping; solicitation by other women or girls recruiting on behalf of the sex trafficker; the “boyfriend” approach of appearing romantically interested while slowly coercing them into prostitution; and even the “daddy” form where men promise to care for and be a daddy to girls who long for protection and provision.
As a parent myself, my own heart begs the question, “What can I do?” Here are six things that you can do to help prevent your child from being lured away by a trafficker:
1. Set a high standard of “love” within your home.
The way you define and express love shapes your children’s self-image, confidence and opinions of future relationships. Treat them the way you want their future spouses to treat them. Help them to distinguish between real love and empty promises or cheap gifts.
2. Talk to your children about sexual abuse.
According to the US Department of Justice, every two minutes someone in the US is sexually assaulted, of which 29% are ages 12-17. Let your children know that if anyone has or ever does hurt them, they can talk to you. This is the most important thing you can say. Don’t assume they have not been hurt by sexual violence before. Leave the door open for your child to talk about past circumstances that they haven’t shared with you.
3. Talk to your children about sex trafficking.
Discuss ways children and teens are targeted for sex trafficking. Let them know that traffickers specifically try to woo young girls and boys with promises of a better life – whether it’s promises of love and attention or promises of nice things and trips – these pimps look for ways of exploiting dreams. Traffickers can be male or female, even classmates. Traffickers may even use kids to recruit other kids.
4. Talk to your children about the dangers of social media.
It’s important to provide practical safety tips like: don’t share personal information on the Internet; don’t accept Facebook requests from unknown people; NEVER share naked photos of yourself with anyone; and tell a parent or a trusted adult if you feel threatened or uncomfortable online. Also, children need help in defining friendships. Social media has distorted our children’s’ understanding of what friendship means. Teach them that a friend is not someone you met yesterday and that a “friend” on Facebook is not the same thing as a friendship.
5. Pay attention to your children.
Monitor your children’s social media accounts, look for ways to meet their friends, their friends’ parents and those they hang out with. Be alert to boyfriends who are much older, or friendships that tend to isolate your child from other friends or family. Notice if your child has new clothing items, makeup products, cell phone or other items and inquire about how they acquired them.
6. Invite your kids to pray for those enslaved.
Sexual assault and trafficking can be a fearful or overwhelming subject for children. Invite them to take action by praying for those who are enslaved. This allows for children to acknowledge the suffering of young people who have been trafficked while placing hope in a God who desires freedom for the oppressed.