Human trafficking is a major world wide problem. Millions of children and adults are trafficked into sex slavery every single year. It is the third most profitable illegal industry after arms and drugs sales, raking in $32 billion in annual profits. In this series we are learning all about human trafficking. This post will cover how can we prevent being targeted for human trafficking, and how should we respond when we suspect it. I have added some amazing videos that aid in our understanding of how to prevent and report trafficking.
To further inform myself on the issue, I took OUR Rescue's free online training course which I highly recommend. It's only an hour long, and comes from an outstanding child rescue organization.
Now that you know what human trafficking is and some of the major signs, let's learn how we can protect ourselves. The first step is learning how to avoid being targeted by a sex trafficker. We know that these predators are masters at identifying vulnerable people (depressed, addicts, foster kids, few friends), or people in vulnerable situations (running away from home, travelling alone, etc.) so we must look out for ourselves and our loved ones. Making sure that your children and friends know you love them, and that you will always be a safe person that they can turn to can go a long way to squash vulnerabilities.
Just like other kinds of predators, traffickers do not fit a single profile. To identify one we must look for behavioural and tactical indicators. Traffickers can be male or female, any ethnicity, and they are all masters of manipulation and control.
Here are some of the tactics and behaviours used by traffickers:
They offer you expensive gifts or experiences
They ask you to keep inappropriate secrets, they want you to be secretive about your relationship with them
They make you believe you owe them a debt that must be paid off
They promise you fame or fortune, ask to take your picture, or offer your a 'job' as a model or actress
When asked how sex traffickers were able to control their victims, convicted offenders said "I sold them their dream, and told them what they wanted to hear".
They try to isolate you, or lure you into their car or house with some type of offer or ploy
They promise you a romantic relationship, friendship, or employment
They ask you to send them inappropriate images, videos, or pornographic content
They ask you to perform sexual acts for others for money. They may tell you that it's only temporary, until you can afford the life of your dreams.
They take advantage of your feelings towards them, guilting you to do things that you don't want to do to 'prove you really love them'.
The Process of Grooming
Traffickers gradually gain control of their victim through a process called grooming. The steps of grooming are:
Targeting a vulnerable individual
Gaining trust and information
Filling a need
Isolating the victim
Beginning the abuse
Maintaining control through threats or force
How To Help Your Children Avoid Being Groomed
One of the most important things you can do is encourage open communication about relationships with your children. Sex traffickers leverage secrecy to gradually gain control of their victims. Open communication about new relationships and the people in their lives is key. If your child is overly secretive about their new relationship with an older guy, this is a red flag.
Another important thing you can do is make sure that your child feels loved and taken care of. Especially in their preteen years from age 10-14 when they are most at risk of being targeted. Girls and boys at this age often go through a lot of changes, and may already be experiencing bullying or self-esteem issues. Having a grounded sense of belonging is very powerful for children and stops predators from having a void to fill.
Have open conversations with your family about what abuse looks like. Understanding that there are indeed people in the world who take advantage of others is an important part of developing a healthy caution, and encourages further education. Teach your children about the common lures abusers use, and how they try to exploit people when they are most vulnerable.
Trafficking & The Internet
One of the most common ways individuals, especially children, are lured into trafficking is on the internet. Traffickers look for children to lure through social media and gaming sites which enable predators to stalk, message, and groom their victims. They look for people who are vulnerable because they are young, appear to have poor self esteem, few friends, broken family relationships, or limited supervision. Traffickers either pretend to be another kid their age to gain personal information, or they lure targeted children with promises of a romantic relationship, friendship, or employment, specifically in modelling or acting jobs. An online trafficker will likely spend weeks or months creating a relationship of trust before they start exploiting the victim. Here is what you can do as a parent to keep your kids safe online:
Always monitor your minors social media activity. You should absolutely be checking in on their messages and what they are looking at periodically. It is okay to be a 'helicopter parent' here.
Make sure your child's social media profiles are always set to private. Do not allow them to accept anyone as friends that they haven't already met in person, even if they look like kids their age.
Know that modern gaming involves playing with strangers online. These games often have built in messaging where players can contact each other or speak to one another on audio. Many traffickers use gaming platforms to groom children.
Teach your children to never give out personal information online. This includes phone number, address, school, travel information, or their location. Many apps allow users to tag or track their location live for all to see.
How to Help if You Suspect Someone is a Victim of Human Trafficking
Your response to a suspected victim will vary based on the situation. Use the OUR Responder steps:
Look for signs of trafficking and calmly make notes on descriptive information you can pass on to law enforcement. Physical descriptions, licence plate numbers, location, and the direction they are travelling. Look for multiple signs and trust your intuition.
Don't be afraid to say something if you are in a safe public place and the suspected trafficker is not present. Use small talk to look for more signs of trafficking. You can ask for directions, or ask what their weekend plans are.
If the scenario allows, you can ask more personal questions like 'what is your name, where are you from', 'what do you do for work', 'has someone ever threatened you with physical harm?' Their response will help tell you what to do next. If the person looks fearful and hesitant when you speak to them or looks to someone else before answering, that may indicate you should call 911 for help.
Note that engaging a trafficker can put you and the victim in serious danger. If you suspect the trafficker is present, back off, find a safe space, and call 911. Never make personal accusations, offer personal information, or attempt to rescue a victim yourself.
Always report what you see to 911, and give them as much information as possible. It is never too late to speak up. It is always better to be safe than say nothing.
If an adult victim is not in immediate danger and in need of services, give them the National Human Trafficking Hotline Number.
Text: "BeFree" to 233722
Submit an online form at www.humantraffickinghotline.org
This hotline is run by Polaris. Victims, including undocumented individuals, are protected under US law and are eligible for services. You can encourage a suspected victim to call the hotline number, or call yourself to report a suspected case.
Always keep this number saved on your phone so that you can use it when you need it.
Read the first post in this series: What is Human Trafficking? Know the Facts
Read the second post in this series: Human Trafficking: Know the Signs
Author: Gemma Sheehan, Founder of Girls Who Fight Inc.
Gemma is an ex-MMA fighter who started Girls Who Fight Inc to bring the value of martial arts and self defense training to the female audience.
The Girls Who Fight Film, By Jennifer Roberts