***warning explicit ***
The FBI estimates that more than half of human trafficking victims are children. It is believed that the average life expectancy of a child who is trafficked is 7 years. Time is of the essence.
If we can stop one buyer, we may save the life of a child.
Before we can effectively prevent child sex trafficking, we must first try to understand it. If we can understand the who, why, where, when and how of this heinous crime, we are better equipped to interrupt the process and protect children.
Understanding the the way visualization drives our actions: the connection between porn and child sex trafficking
If you think about a hamburger for long enough, you'll eventually eat a hamburger. The more vivid the images of a hot, juicy hamburger just the way you like it, the quicker you are likely to go get it. It’s just the way our brains work.
Psychologists have long advised athletes to harness this brain capability to envision successfully making their free throws, hitting the baseball out of the park, or running the ball into the end zone for the game winning touchdown. Our ability to think verbally and in images is what psychologists call behavioral rehearsal.
In the same way, if we think about a sexual fantasy for long enough, and vividly enough, eventually we’re more likely act on it. This is why child pornography is often a precursor to sex with a child. It's a vehicle by which people can vividly imagine their fantasies. And when they visualize their fantasies acted out in high definition images for long enough, just like the overwhelming urge to go get that hamburger, they'll eventually begin looking for opportunities to do what they've been thinking about.
Normalization of child sex trafficking
The truth is that rarely does anyone start out with child porn. They start with “average” porn. Some people eventually get to the point where this culturally acceptable porn does nothing for them, and they look for something more. Illustrating this point, a German study, "Brain Structure and Functional Connectivity Associated With Pornography Consumption: The Brain on Porn," found that the more porn that was consumed, the less brain activity there was in the “reward circuit," which indicated desensitization. This leads some porn consumers to the addiction cycle of the unquenchable desire for something more in an attempt to meet their increased need for greater stimulation.
Unfortunately, the “something more” is now readily available and easily obtainable. The FBI estimates 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.
There are online "communities" of people who actively seek sexual experiences with children. These predators have found normalization of this behavior online. Those who used to be culturally shunned have now found camaraderie on the darknet. In fact, there are efforts to "re-brand" pedophiles as "minor attracted persons," to remove the stigma attached to people who are sexually attracted to children.
Online communities of pedophiles share pictures and videos with one another. They trade ways to identify and abduct children, and they give one another tips and tricks for “grooming” children to go along willingly with this heinous crime without telling anyone. In the grooming process the predators learn as much as they can about the child's family and friends so that they can use threats against loved ones as leverage to keep the child bound in what feels like a hopeless situation.
Denying the reality of the situation
Many people justify their use of child porn by reasoning that the kids in the pictures and videos are adults dressed to look like kids. But the horrendous truth is that the pictures and videos contain real, live children who are being raped, humiliated, drugged, and who have no way to defend themselves.
Ernie Allen, founding chairman of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, shared that the average age of child victims of commercial sexual exploitation is 12 years old. He added that many pedophiles specifically seek out mentally disabled, non-verbal, or very young children because they’re unable to communicate what’s happening to them.
Protecting the most vulnerable children from child sex trafficking
Children who are most likely to be lured into sex trafficking are kids who have been abandoned, neglected, abused, or sold by their family of origin, many of whom have been in the foster care system.
Children who are in foster care are exceptionally vulnerable to the lure of traffickers because they tend to be compliant victims.
This is especially true for children who have been sexually abused by a family member or a friend of the family, and those whose parents sold their child for sex or sold the child altogether. This tragic behavior on the part of parents (often parents who are addicted and who exchange their children for drugs) normalizes sex as a transaction in the mind of the child. These children often willingly becomes the "property" of the trafficker to help mommy or daddy "get their medicine."
Children who are homeless are even more vulnerable. Feeling alone and unprotected, they are susceptible to developing an alliance of sorts with the trafficker and with the other kids who are also available for sale. They often defend their traffickers because in a warped way, traffickers meet the child's needs for shelter, clothing and a sense of belonging.
When this alliance goes on for long enough, the influence of "the life" can brainwash the child into believing that the whole situation is acceptable or even desirable. These are the young people who don't try to escape. This was the case with some of the young people who willingly participated in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, allowing it to go on as long as it did.
But it's not just foster kids who are vulnerable to traffickers. Many rescued trafficking victims report having been lured by the promise of being a model or an actor or actress, making lots of money, escape out of difficult family situations, fun with friends, or a romantic relationship. And of course there is abduction.
An 8-year study by Arizona State University released in 2020 reported that 53.5% of children who were trafficked in Las Vegas, Nevada had been kidnapped from their families. To emphasize the reality of this scenario, one predator was convicted of paying another to livestream the rape of a three year old boy who was abducted from his family simply because he happened to meet the physical description required by the purchaser.
What can we do to prevent child sex trafficking in our communities?
There is a lot that we can do to prevent the trafficking of the children in our families, neighborhoods and communities. Future articles will highlight some of the specific actions that we can take. Many proven, vetted programs and partners that are ready to help you keep kids safe are listed at www.loveisaction.com. Free resources are available online from NCMEC at www.netsmartzkids.org and STOP CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING.
For now, let's focus on obstructing progression down the road from "average" porn to child porn to the buying and selling of children for sex.
We must stop dismissing porn as a harmless, acceptable part of our culture, because while it doesn’t lead every consumer to violence or pedophilia, it does do that for some. And the priceless life of one child saved because one person didn’t slide down the slippery slope of the never-ending search for ever-more-stimulating porn is worth the effort we can make in taking a personal stand against it.
Think about taking a stand. If you think about it long enough, like thinking about that hamburger, perhaps you’ll take action.
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