Remember when you thought talking to your kids about sex was uncomfortable and tricky to maneuver? Well, I have found a topic that feels even more terrifying. It’s called “How not to get trafficked.” This topic is vital today. Please don’t skip it.
Ever look at your kids, ready to talk about something you know is so important, and you pep-talk yourself into having the nerve only to lose it all when you look in their eyes? You suddenly remember that they are only kids. Ten seems too early to have such a serious discussion, right? “It can wait.” Friends, let me caution you.
Traffickers think your ten-year-old is the perfect age. I know that sounds shocking to some of you, and not all ten-year-olds will be at risk in this area. But every kid, boy girl, rich or poor, broken home or seemingly together home—none of these factors change the level of risk our kids face in this area.
So, what does that other kid have that at-risk kids don’t? Parents who are willing to brave the sweaty armpits and foreseeable awkwardness to talk candidly with their kids. This topic is no longer optional if we want to protect our children. And before you think the words, “My kid would never fall for this,” let me tell you that I have worked with girls who have already been and are currently being trafficked. They come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and families.
Traffickers have made an evil art form out of their work. They are so smooth our kids don’t even know it’s happening. Their approach? To offer your daughter (and sometimes sons) what they want most in the world. A place to feel loved, special, and noticed.
Here are a few basics you need to know.
- Money has nothing to do with it. As a matter of fact, here in the Reno area, our highest caseload of trafficked minors is located at our most affluent high school. A recent meeting with an FBI agent in the crimes against children department told us point blank, “Your money has nothing to do with it. In fact, it seems to give a false sense of security to communities.” He went on to tell us that abuse, family dysfunction, and addictions take place just as much in high socio-economic areas as in poverty stricken areas.
- It has nothing or very little to do with kidnapping. This myth is too thickly planted in our understanding of trafficking. Awaken, a local anti-trafficking organization, has helped nearly 400 women and girls and not one of them was ever kidnapped. In fact, the majority of them (especially minors) were trafficked right through social media apps. Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Audio Manager, Calculator%, Vaulty, Burn Note, Line, Omegle, Tinder, Blendr, KiK messenger, Yik Yak, Ask.fm, Yubo (formerly Yellow), Reddit, and Musical.ly are just some of the apps traffickers are using to secretly connect with your child’s smart phone. Any place where private messages can take place is a bad place for your kid to be. Traffickers are willing to spend months grooming your child.
Grooming is an industry term that means a person (man, woman, guy, or girl) spends time online in a private chat space getting to know your child’s favorite everything and building trust through relationship before suggesting an in person meet up. By then, what feels like true relationships have been formed. Our kids have found someone who agrees that their parents “just don’t get it,” and many times our kids believe this is a genuinely intimate relationship.
Many times, sexting has already taken place. Another FBI agent told me he conducts social media safety classes in middle school classes across the state. His first question is, “How many of you have ever sent a nude picture of yourself to someone over your phone?” Without fail, fifty percent of the students raise their hands. His second question is, “How many of you have ever been asked to send a nude photo of yourself?” Again, without fail, the admission raises to 80% of the class.
- Only girls are affected by this. While we don’t see as many cases of boys being trafficked as we see with girls, it still happens. Even if they aren’t the ones being trafficked, they are affected because their sisters, cousins, and friends just may be at risk. But most importantly, we need to be just as vigilant with our young men to set the standard that buying women is never right. We have the opportunity to teach them to stand up for the women who forget they have a voice.
- Your child would never fall for this. Ever hear of Maslow’s hierarchy? It’s the well proven theory that humans must have basic needs covered to function in everyday life. At the foundation of this pyramid—and therefore the most important need—is physiological needs. Clothes, food, shelter, air, sleep. The basics, right? Then comes safety: personal security, a safe place to speak up, resources, health. Right above that is love and belonging. There are other pieces to this theory, but these three levels are where traffickers camp out. Here is where we have the answer to why so many women and children fall prey to traffickers. Let’s look at them in reverse.
When a child perceives a lack of love and belonging (whether this is true or not) they will seek it out down the path of least resistance. This means if parents get too busy, work too much, or aren’t meeting this vital relational need, our kids won’t think twice about finding it someplace else. For example, if a cute guy shoots them a quick message of “Hey beautiful,” in a private forum, this child may respond. Because who doesn’t want to be called beautiful? “It’s about time someone told me this.” We call this “gang mentality.” No one wakes up one day and says, “I think I want to be in a gang,” or, “It’s Tuesday? Maybe I’ll look into working with a pimp.” It happens slowly and steadily and sometimes right under our noses. As parents, we pull back in the tween and teen years instead of staying the course to walk along our kids when they frankly need us just as much if not more. They are faced with heavy amounts of temptations of drugs, drinking, peer pressure, bullying, heavy school loads, stress, the future, and the added pressures of the online world.
The next two levels introduce us to another type of trafficking. We call this “survival sex” which is just as difficult to stomach as you imagine. Many minors agree to work with traffickers as a favor and in return for goods or the promise of basic needs met. iPhones, new clothes and shoes, food, rent, a family, shelter, a job, money (albeit not much). These are some things we have seen traffickers use as payment. For a child not receiving these, it’s easy to understand why something as simple as sex would be a worthy trade.
- This situation is hopeless. This is the biggest myth of them all, and the one traffickers want you to keep believing. It’s big. There’s no denying that trafficking is an epidemic across the world. But, if you have a voice, you also have the opportunity to bring about change. It begins with talking to your kids, your neighbor’s kids, your students, and any kids you know. Talk to other moms and dads, teachers, uncles and aunts. Get the conversation to the forefront instead of letting the bad guys be the most vocal here.
Bringing awareness where traffickers hope to keep everything hidden will remove our children’s vulnerability. Then, we have to be all in. I mean all in. For all 18 years (and then some) we decide we are going to be fully committed and in relationship with our kids. We agree to talk about hard things and be the ones who tell our children how valuable they are, so they never have to look for that affirmation someplace else. Finally, we can be so dedicated to this cause of raising kids that we stay connected to whoever they are connected to. We skip the temptation that comes to be hands off parents because we’ve been doing this for years, and they seem fine now.
“They don’t need me to be as involved now.” Don’t fall for that. Our kids need a place to bounce ideas and push back with safe boundaries and know you aren’t going to quit loving them enough to hold them accountable. They want us to ask the hard questions ahead of time so when they are approached by someone unsafe, they already know how to handle it. They know they can count on you to hear them.
Be all in. Because if we aren’t, there is someone waiting be just what your little girl thinks she needs.