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Wake Up! Human Trafficking is Happening Around You

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

When you hear the term “Human Trafficking” on the news or see an article come across your Facebook news feed, it’s easy to dismiss it as a “not here” kind of issue.

Living in the USA, we have so many freedoms and luxuries that it’s all too easy to believe that we and our children are safe from this particular horror of injustice. I wish I could say this isn’t something you will ever need to think or worry about as a parent – but that’s simply not true…and you and I cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

The film Sound of Freedom has been the surprise success of the summer.  Based on a true story, it pulls back the curtain on child sex trafficking and exposes what is happening in our own nation, our own neighborhoods. The film itself is a wake up call to every parent and every citizen.    

What is Human Trafficking?

“Trafficking in persons,” “human trafficking,” and “modern slavery” are umbrella terms – often used interchangeably – to refer to a crime whereby traffickers exploit and profit at the expense of adults or children by compelling them to perform labor or engage in commercial sex.  When a person younger than 18 is used to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion involved.”

Source: US Department of State

How big of a deal is it across the globe?

  • 6 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021, of which 27.6 million were in forced labor and 22 million in forced marriage.
  • Of the 6 million people in forced labor, 17.3 million are exploited in the private sector; 6.3 million in forced commercial sexual exploitation, and 3.9 million in forced labor imposed by state.
  • Women and girls account for 9 million of those in forced commercial sexual exploitation, and for 6 million of those in forced labor in other economic sectors.
  • 12% of all those in forced labor are children. More than half of these children are in commercial sexual exploitation.

 Source: International Labour Organization

Who is at risk?

When I read the statistics above, it makes me sick to my stomach. Children are one of the highest risk demographics to be caught in human trafficking. Boys and girls. Infants up to teenagers. Children are being groomed and coerced into sexual slavery and the scariest part is that it’s hard to notice that it’s happening.

“Children are particularly vulnerable. More than ½ of all victims identified in 2021 were minors. In the United States, the average age of entry into sex trafficking is 13. In southeast Asia, the average age is 9.”

Source: EmpowerHerNetwork

“In 2021 alone, more than 29 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation were reported by online platforms to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline, and that number is growing. Those 29 million reports included 84.9 million images and videos of CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material).”

Source: RAINN.org

Did you know that the US has one of the highest demands for child porn of any country in the world? Are we awake yet? This is happening right under our noses; in small towns across America all the way to the big cities of New York and Los Angeles. Human Trafficking does not discriminate. It crosses all socioeconomic lines and we need to be actively and intentionally involved in our children’s lives to make sure they are safe.

How do we safeguard our children?

In many instances, the more informed you are about an issue, the better equipped you can be. However, I don’t necessarily encourage you to go down a rabbit hole researching this particular topic. This is heavy, deeply disturbing information and I don’t want you to drown in it. I also don’t want you suddenly living in terror that your child will end up in a trafficking situation – that is not my goal in sharing this with you. My aim is to shake you awake to the realities of the world that your child is living in so you know how best to protect and teach them to be aware. That is one of your most sacred roles as a parent! Until your child begins to understand how to protect themselves as an adolescent and young adult, this responsibility lands on you.

Here are 3 ways you can start:

1. Talk to your kids about what bad people do (be age-appropriate, of course). Teach your kids about strangers; never taking food or candy from people they don’t know and never going anywhere with someone they don’t know, no matter how nice they are.

2. Talk to your kids about dangerous social media behavior: never respond to any person they don’t know, never engage in conversations where another person gets too personal, never give out private information, always be suspicious of someone who tellsthem what they want to hear, NEVER meet with someone they don’t know without anadult, etc.

    • One of the top places for girls to be targeted/groomed for exploitation is on Instagram
    • Men learn how to groom girls in ways that they’d never recognize. For instance, men will pose as “understanding young boys who will help the girl with her struggles.” They’ll be the ‘listening ear, shoulder to cry on…the one your daughter can tell anything to.’
    • Research tells us that girls who are homeless, living without a dad (or healthy father figure) in their life or are into drugs and drinking are at a higher risk of being exploited.
    • I always recommend delaying a smart phone until your kid is in high school, but that isn’t always realistic. There are some great phone options out there that don’t have access to the internet or any apps like Instagram or TikTok, but can still text and take pictures. Gabb is my favorite!
    • If your child has a regular smartphone, implement parental controls on their device. They might hate you for it – oh well. You’re keeping your child safe and that is more important than them being angry at you for a time.

3. Keep the conversation open! Be the person your kids come to when they get a weird message or saw their friend talking to somebody they shouldn’t be. You want to be their safe harbor – their initial point of contact so you can help. If you find out something that your child shouldn’t have been doing – don’t lead with anger. Take a deep breath, thank them for telling you and ask kind questions. If you blow up at them they may shut down and be nervous about telling you things in the future.

I know this is heavy. I know this is something you don’t want to think about – but you HAVE to.

Watching the film Sound of Freedom is a place to start. When we are informed, we are empowered to change the world around us.

I want you to feel empowered in safeguarding your kids and teaching them how to protect themselves as they grow up. It has to start with you. You are the first line of defense.  

If you suspect that your child or someone you know may be a victim of grooming or trafficking, call The National Human Trafficking Hotline today: 1-888-373-7888

 Learn the warning signs of sexual abuse, grooming and exploitation

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