***warning explicit language***
To prevent child sex trafficking, we must first try to understand it
Let's look at some of what we know about the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The FBI estimates that more than half of human trafficking victims in the US are children.
While numbers cannot be verified (traffickers don't file reports) it is estimated that over 100,000 children are sold right here in the United States for sex each year, including in child sex trafficking, child sex tourism, and child pornography.
Children sometimes go willingly with traffickers with no physical restraint or force involved. Coercion and fraud are the most common tactics used.
Traffickers often pose as a boyfriend.
Traffickers can be women who can look like your mother, aunt or grandmother. They can look like a friend in their teens or early 20's. Or they can look like a well-dressed business person.
Buyers are often "average" looking men.
Many buyers "book appointments" online.
Traffickers often move children from location to location in an attempt to stay ahead of law enforcement.
Traffickers discourage children from attempting rescue through law enforcement by inflicting sexual violence by men posing as police in uniforms.
Traffickers often use drugs to restrain kids from escape attempts.
The FBI estimates the average life expectancy of a child trafficked at 7 years.
That last point should get all of our attention. The clock is ticking. Every child saved from being trafficked is a child who may be saved from a tragic death.
Some kids are more vulnerable to traffickers
Kids need to feel loved. They need a sense of belonging to people who care about and protect them. They need the feeling of safety that comes from a consistent place to live, food to eat, and clothes that do not contribute to a sense of shame. When kids lack any of these things, they become vulnerable to predators.
People who profit from the commercial sexual exploitation of children offer a counterfeit version of what we all need--connection, care, a sense of belonging, safety and to have our basic physical needs met.
Many traffickers lure kids in by doing things like pretending to care more about them than their family does, by listening to them and acting like they understand, by telling them how beautiful they are, by promising a career in modeling or acting and by buying them gifts of clothes and shoes.
Sadly, many kids have no idea that predators are appealing to their vulnerabilities when they approach them in parks, in the mall or at school with compliments, gifts and other grooming approaches.
Understanding why children go willing with traffickers gives us clues for interrupting the process
Prevention efforts that work attempt to meet the physical and emotional needs of children while educating them on the dangers of predators who would try to lure them into the deadly life of being sold for sex.
When we give vulnerable kids the real connections of healthy relationships, a sense of belonging to a community, and brand new, dignity-giving clothing, we help to meet their basic physical and emotional needs which fortify and empower them to be less vulnerable to the lure of traffickers. Add to all this education about the ways that traffickers can trick children into compliance, and kids are far less susceptible to the lure of predators.
We prevent child sex trafficking in our families, neighborhoods and communities
There are many things that we can do to prevent the trafficking of children. The most effective prevention programs begin with meeting their basic physical and emotional needs before the traffickers do. It's really that simple. We didn't say it would be easy.
Every prevention effort requires the time of people who genuinely care about children. In fact, these efforts often involve more time than money. The types of programs that work include church youth groups, after-school programs, sports, mentoring, tutoring, clubs and other activities that provide a foundation for healthy relationships, a sense of belonging, a feeling of safety and the meeting of some physical needs.
To protect children in your community, begin with an assessment of what's already being done, what needs are not being met, and what "assets" (community centers, church buildings, playgrounds, people, etc.) are available.
Assemble a group of people who want to join the effort to protect kids. Welcome people who work in the non profit and community organizations that are already serving kids, government departments of social services, educators, law enforcement, the faith community, social clubs, business owners, medical and mental health professionals, and concerned citizens.
Strategize about how the identified community assets can be used to fill the gaps that aren't being met in your community. It might help to look at what other communities are doing to protect their children. Some safe, vetted programs and resource partners are mentioned below.
Avoid "compassionate chaos"
Be careful not to launch too quickly into an effort before doing your research and gathering your team. In doing so, some well intentioned people have attempted to rescue children from traffickers, which endangers the children and the volunteers and can interfere with law enforcement initiatives. Some have purchased real estate with the plans to house rescued victims only to find that they could not obtain the necessary licenses and permits for a residential care facility. Still others have created programs that duplicate the efforts of local social services organization resulting in competition for resources and diminished morale of good hearted volunteers. Ultimately, "compassionate chaos" hurts kids.
Every effective prevention program requires a well-thought out plan, actionable steps, realistic goals, a spirit of cooperation and collaboration, and a clear and consistent goal of protecting children.
A great place to start is with the book, Ending Human Trafficking and the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. Also, many proven, vetted programs and partners are ready to help you keep the children in your family and community safe. These include Safe Families for Children, For The Children, and many more that can be found at www.loveisaction.com. Free online resources are also available from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.netsmartzkids.org and STOP CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING.
A new prevention program in Las Vegas
We can't stop the buyers. We can't stop the traffickers. BUT WE CAN EMPOWER KIDS TO SAY NO
One prevention effort that is being launched in Las Vegas, Nevada for foster and homeless youth is modeled after The Foster Care Closet, a program in Nebraska that has a 16-year track record of giving foster and at-risk youth dignity through vetted, trained, caring volunteers in a private, shame-free boutique that allows them to choose 5 brand new, fashion current outfits, one pair of shoes, socks, undies, and a coat in the winter under the guidance of trained volunteers and their foster parents or social worker. The clothing is purchased wholesale, so the cost is only $130 per child.
Trauma-informed volunteers provide a warm meal and a caring connection. The clothing meets a need that helps to alleviate the shame of poverty and family dysfunction. In addition to all the new clothes and shoes, information is provided about the way predators lure kids.
Ultimately, this approach provides vulnerable kids with dignity, relationships with people who care about them, and education that fortifies against predators.
If you want to join this effort, please do so here.
100% of your donation is tax deductible and is spent directly on meeting physical needs of foster and homeless kids--those most vulnerable to traffickers.
The why, how, when and where of child trafficking
In this article we've talked about the "who." But there is much more to learn about this heinous crime, all of which can help us end child trafficking.
For more information on questions like why men pay for sex with children, how, when and where it takes place, the best prevention strategies, the difference between trafficking and prostitution and more, check out these interviews with subject matter experts, Dr. Sandie Morgan, Director of Vanguard University's Global Center for Women and Justice, Dr. Annalisa Enrile of USC's Suzanne Dwarek-Peck School of Social Work, and more. More valuable resources can be found at STOP CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING campaign.
What we can do RIGHT NOW to stop child trafficking
Lastly, please put these phone and text numbers and website into your phone. Encourage everyone you know to do the same. If you see anything that is suspicious to you, please have the courage to make the anonymous phone call, text or online report to the national hotline. It is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in 200 languages.
Your report could save a child's life.
We are your successful survivor team. We are survivors of childhood trauma who have mined the lessons out of all we've been through. We use those lessons (character traits, learned abilities and healthy coping skills) to create successful lives. We are your tribe. We have been in hard places. We know the way out, and we can help you find the tools you need to create your successful life. Please join us in making a difference in the world here. Check out the podcast here--we'd love your input. We're stronger and more effective together.