January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. How do these months get decided? It is also the Cervical Health Awareness Month, National Birth Defects Prevention Month, National Glaucoma Awareness Month, National Radon Action Month, Thyroid Awareness Month, National Winter Sports TBI Awareness Month, Weight Loss Awareness Month, National Codependency Awareness Month, National Mentoring Month, and Stalking Awareness Month. That is a lot of things to be aware of!
When it comes to human trafficking, I find parents fall into two camps: 1) They assume their child is safe from harm because they live in a small town, go to a good school, have a nice boyfriend, have future dreams, _______________ (fill in the blank), or 2) They are terrified of their child being kidnapped in the mall, stalked online, drugged at a party, or __________(fill in the blank).
The NAIVE and the FEARFUL.
I have been both and to some degree, it is only natural to fluctuate between the two ends of the spectrum. But fellow parents, I believe there is a third way. The EDUCATED and PREPARED. Here are 5 things to help you be a more educated and prepared parent.
1. You should know it can happen in every small town across America. Your town may not have a "wrong side of the tracks," "seedy section," or "track," but do you have the internet? Do you have people? If you have those, you have sin, sexual deviance, and addiction. You have demand. Therefore, you have a market. Traffickers can both exploit and sell victims online. On any given day, on a number of websites, young girls and boys are being bought and sold and driven around to meet customers at hotels, rest stops, and parks. So, do not be naive nor deceived by the squeaky clean facade of your community.
2. Be aware of red flags. Here are a few and you can read more in this resource from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
- Spending a lot of time online, in chat rooms, talking with "older boys" from other states.
- Sudden appearance of expensive gifts, manicures, clothing without reason or from a boyfriend.
- Withdrawal from friends and activities. Hanging out with a different crowd.
- Running away. Staying with "friends." Truancy. Substance Abuse.
3. Traffickers do not wear gold and fedoras. While this is the image most people have of pimps, including Halloween City, it is far less common that a trafficker fits this part. Traffickers have been mothers, other teenage girls, gang members, and your average good-looking frat boy. They are young, old, white, black, asian, men and women, girls and boys. Our kids need to know that manipulation and exploitation comes in different packages.
4. There is such a thing as too good to be true. Our children need to know this lesson. As any good salesman will do, traffickers paint an attractive picture of what they want their victim to believe. Whether it's modeling agencies promising big jobs for little work, boyfriends asking her to just dance a few nights to make enough money to bail him out of a jam, or businessmen with a proposed (easy) job to pay for tuition, if it sounds too good to be true, be suspicious.
5. Talk to your kids about sex trafficking sooner rather than later. I suggest high schools incorporate training into the 9th grade health curriculum and if you can influence your school to educate their kids, do so! I suggest parents start talking about the risk of trafficking in middle school. The national average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12. In my state, it's 16. At the very least, when you give your child a phone and/or internet access, you should be having safety conversations and laying the foundation of open dialogue.
Ultimately, we parents know that we do our best and live in faith everyday with our kids. We need to be equally concerned about teen suicide, bullying, sexting, school violence, and a host of other serious issues. It can feel overwhelming. The danger is to be gripped by fear or immobilized by the enormity of it all. May I encourage you today to store this post in your heart, share with a friend, and offer up some prayers for our kids. You are one step further in being EDUCATED and PREPARED.