Human Trafficking is Real. Here’s How to Prevent Your Kids from Falling Victim

No doubt you’ve seen that one scary post your friend has shared on Facebook–the one where she feels she was followed by a strange person in a parking lot or store, and worried that person was tied somehow into a human trafficking ring.

While there’s no way to verify who might be behind those terrifying encounters, the pervasiveness of these posts is no doubt due to the fact that there more awareness than ever about the dark underworld of human trafficking.

It’s not just something about which blockbuster films are made, it’s a real epidemic. And the numbers will astound you.The International Labour Organization says there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.

Called “modern-day slavery” by some, victims can be used for sex acts, physical labor or other crimes. And it’s a crime that targets both both boys and girls, as well as grown men and women.

I recently sat down for an interview with one of the heads of Florida Abolitionist, a group that aims to end human trafficking, and educate the public to help spot those impacted and prevent further victimization.

Why do this? Why talk about this particular problem? It’s because of those very stories you see people sharing on social media all the time. I had to know, is it really that dangerous out there for our kids?

Human trafficking isn’t just something about which blockbuster films are made, it’s a real epidemic. And the numbers will astound you. The International Labour Organization says there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.

In short, the answer is yes, but not for the reasons you may think.

While Pippin says that outright kidnapping can certainly be behind some cases of human trafficking, the bigger threat to our children and their safety is something that is in every home. It’s something that gives strangers open access to your children and their minds–the internet.

“If people knew the tactics and the ways that traffickers recruit, then they’re not going to go down that path. The majority of the time, it’s not outright kidnapping. It’s through relationship building and earning trust, whether that’s online or in person.”

Read on for some takeaways from my interview with Blair, and some common sense tips that you can put into action to help educate your children and loved ones to prevent anyone you know from falling victim.

What Parents Need to Know About Human Trafficking to Protect Kids

It’s Preventable

Knowing the ways traffickers recruit is the first step in preventing your child from becoming a target.

The majority of the time, traffickers don’t typically get their victims through kidnapping, but instead through relationship building, whether that be in person or online.

In person, a trafficker may try to get in the victim’s good graces. Victims are wooed with gifts or exposure to an extravagant lifestyle. Traffickers spend time with them, building trust and forming a bond, making the victim feel special in some way, all the while convincing them that to continue this lifestyle, they must start to obey the trafficker.

There is No “Typical Victim”

While it’s not uncommon kids from broken homes to be targets, Pippin says those from intact and otherwise stable family lives can also fall victim with these same tactics.

“The trafficker will try to create a relationship with their potential victim. A lot of times .. [it’s a] romantic relationship.”

Bottom line: While there are typical tactics, there are no typical victims. Any young person seeking approval can fall victim. Says Pippin, “Educate your kids about those tactics traffickers use so they can stay safe.”

Know Where The Threat Lies

This might be the single most shocking fact about human trafficking: It can start in your own home. That’s right; the biggest threat lies in multiple outlets in your house and boils down to one word–online.

Wherever kids are chatting or communicating online–whether that’s on computers, smart phones, tablets, or even through gaming consoles and apps–if there is someone on the other end who can potentially communicate with your child, you need to be wary.

There are a host of software suites that are designed to track your kid’s online behavior; this article is a good place to start.

Qustodio is one that has gotten great online reviews, as well as Net NannyKaspersky also popped up in several “best parental controls” searches. Base your search off what software you’re running (PC vs. Mac), and find an option that works for you and your family.

But know this: It’s not easy to monitor every platform. When it comes to social media apps like Snapchat or Instagram where a login is necessary, you might have to monitor by getting your child’s login credentials or grabbing a quick look while your child is away from his/her device.

In a perfect world, kids would offer up their devices for inspection, but that’s not always the case, so having a healthy dialogue and being honest about why you’re asking to look at their phones can be a great starting point to getting them to open up.

Even Women Can Be Recruiters

While men are most often considered the perpetrators of human trafficking, women can also be involved. It’s not uncommon for women to forge relationships with young girls based on a feeling of sisterhood, before then leading them down the dark path of trafficking.

Consider this from The No Project, another human trafficking education and prevention group: “[A] woman trafficker may appear more ‘trustworthy’ than a male – especially in the case of recruiting children or young women for the forced sexual exploitation.”

Understand the Battle

Many times people ask, Why don’t the victims run? The answer is simple–grooming. This article by Florida Abolitionist explains it perfectly. It’s part of the reason that fighting this epidemic can be so difficult, but it shouldn’t stop us from fighting this terrible trend.

Just remember that this is a problem law enforcement is constantly working to defeat. As long as there are threats out there, awareness and education are essential.

You Can Spot the Signs

Modern-day slaves, as some people call the victims, won’t always stand out in the crowd, but Florida Abolitionist says there are signs that can indicate a person is being victimized:

  • Behavioral patterns, like appearing unusually anxious or fearful most of the time
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Has a flat affect and little interest in other people or things
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, and/or identification documents
  • Is not allowed to speak for him/herself
  • Exhibits an unawareness of a sense of time or place, or has numerous inconsistencies in his/her personal story

You Can Educate Your Kids without Scaring Them

When it comes to communicating with your kids, don’t be scared to be honest!

Telling your older kids what dangers are out there can feel intimidating, but when the problem is real, our words must be blunt. Teenagers can handle frank discussions about dangers, while conversations with younger children can be introduced in simpler terms: “Don’t speak to strangers if we are not with you,” or, “If someone online starts saying things that seem strange, tell Mommy and Daddy right away.”

Keeping this information in mind the next time you see that scary word appear in your news feed will help keep your kids protected, and you sane.

Pass it on.

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