This week, my focus continues on the issue of sex trafficking and what parents can do to help prevent their children from becoming victims.

Why now?

As I pointed out two weeks ago, one reason is the significantly rising number of people trafficked worldwide. Two other significant reasons are that now is an excellent time to begin preparing for National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, January 11, 2023, and schools are in session, including public schools, colleges, and universities. Traffickers, who may even be institutional employees, target students to “scoop” and groom.

Here are a few tips for parents and children.

  1. Communicate with kids. Encourage kids to say what’s on their minds without judging. Listen intently and not fix or advise. Hear what is said and listen for understanding. Fixing and advising can happen later. Let them know that even if you fight, they are supported, loved, and welcome. Apologize when appropriate and ask if they feel supported. It’s surprising how often we think all is well, and it’s not.
  2. Develop a plan about what to do if threatened or feel uncomfortable with an adult or if an adult asks them to keep a secret. Decide the difference between an okay secret and a not okay secret. Things to note may be a peer or adult who suddenly becomes friendly or offers gifts. Decide when they should yell, scream, run, or defend themselves. Encourage them to trust their instincts.
  3. High school students attending college or job fairs should be alert and wary of presenters asking personal questions or making promises. Politeness is a rule; friendliness is not. Strangers, contrary to what social media portrays, are not friends. Students should not give out financial or residential information. If something sounds too good to be true or the answer to all of their dreams, be suspicious and vet what is offered.
  4. Have an alternate number if you are unreachable.
  5. Using age-appropriate words, talk about world events, especially those that may encourage human trafficking, like disasters, homelessness, mental health issues, or food insecurity. 
  6. Be involved with your kids’ activities, and get to know their friends and families.  Stay alert. Sadly, even those families who seem on the up and up may not be. 
  7. When lost in a store or mall, have the child locate a cashier and stay put until parents are contacted and the child is safe.
  8.  Believe children when they say they are uncomfortable with someone or if they think a friend is in trouble. Watch for new objects in their possession, like clothing, manicures, or jewelry. Or times when they can’t explain where they were or how they got their new possessions. Trust your instinct. If their behavior suddenly changes or they don’t want to be with a particular person, be curious and respect those boundaries.
  9. Low self-esteem and insecurity lead to vulnerability. Uplift young people and encourage them to believe in, love, and respect themselves. Data suggests that 25% of those trafficked are homeless, at-risk young boys, and homeless LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to be trafficked. With your children and friends, at PTA meetings, church, and other organizations, include discussions about human trafficking with conversations about mental health and home situations.

Knowledge is power. Awareness is a strength.

The US National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888 or TTY 711.