10 Ways to Protect Your Child from Human Trafficking
I lost my child to human traffickers…. Those unspeakable words rank near the top of a parent’s worst fears.
Yet few parents understand the real threat of human trafficking, nor do they take meaningful measures to protect their children.
That threat is very real.
First, let’s dispel some popular myths and half-truths about human trafficking:
MYTH: Human traffickers are strangers who trick children into getting into their vehicles and then whisk them away, so if I teach my children to stay away from strangers, they are safe.
TRUTH: Most human traffickers are people a child already knows and trusts, such as a relative (uncle, aunt, or older cousin), a boyfriend, or someone in their community.
MYTH: Human traffickers target those who live in poor neighborhoods, those who are abused by parents, or are loners; my child is safe because she’s a straight-A student with lots of friends.
TRUTH: Although traffickers do target the aforementioned children, they also target “good” kids from average and even upscale neighborhoods through social media, or become a doting older boyfriend to win their trust.
MYTH: Human traffickers only look for girls, not boys, so my sons are safe.
TRUTH: A quarter of all trafficked children are boys, and this percentage is increasing.
Our lives are becoming more public at ever-earlier ages; parents must remain vigilant. Here are
10 ways you can help protect your child from human trafficking:
- Ground them by setting a high standard for love in your home. Modeling what love truly is will help them spot the many counterfeits in our They need to learn that real love has healthy boundaries, such as being able to say no to those who seek to manipulate or take advantage of them. They need to know eloquent words and extravagant gifts do not prove love, and that there are people who will selfishly use these against them to get what they want.
- Talk to your children about sexual abuse. This can be very difficult, so do not hesitate to enlist some guidance from others who model good parenting or find resources on the internet. (The nature of this conversation will vary widely depending on the age and maturity of each child.) Boys and girls need to know what sexual abuse means, and that their bodies no one should touch except themselves or a healthcare provider in your presence—taking care not to communicate shame associated with body parts. Children need to know how to say no, and how to escape a bad situation where another person will not respect their wishes. Make sure you have this talk with your children before extended-family gatherings that will entail them spending unsupervised time with older cousins, aunts, and uncles, etc. Don’t suggest to your children that their relatives are sex abusers, of course, but neither trust them simply because they are “family,” especially at gatherings with relatives you don’t know well. Remember, human traffickers (and sexual abusers) are most often individuals a child already knows and trusts.
- Talk to your children about sex trafficking—an equally difficult subject. Like conversations about sexual abuse, parents are often fearful of “putting ideas in their heads” that children will later act out. This fear has some merit (especially if not planned and executed carefully) but is minimal compared to the dangers of keeping them in the dark. And a well- planned, age-appropriate talk with them on these matters—in the context of a loving relationship where they feel safe—will further minimize such risks. It’s also important to “keep the door open” on these subjects so your children feel safe asking questions later, or telling you about their fears, or an uncomfortable situation they saw or to which they were subjected (such as a peer exposing them to pornography).
- Provide firm but reasonable guidelines and policies in your home regarding all media. Children are exposed to more sexually suggestive and explicit movies, TV programming, music, and social media than ever before in history, and at ever-earlier ages. Many parents provide little or no supervision regarding what their children are exposed to, and even dismiss such Teach them that porn is never okay. Human traffickers use these tools to desensitize kids to their advantage.
- Talk to your children about the dangers of social media. Let them know that Facebook and similar websites have a dark side that allows predatory individuals to find victims. Tell them to never reveal too much about themselves—such as their full name, address, school or living situation—to people they don’t know, whether on your social media sites or in person (no matter how friendly the person may be). Tell them how easy it is for someone to start an account using a fake name and photo, and how a predator can fake personal interest, or claim to have the same interests as your child because they can study their profile and posts.
- Talk about secrets. Perpetrators will often use secret-keeping to manipulate (For example, someone might privately share a porn image or video with your child on Messenger, or see someone touching another child inappropriately, and then be told not to share “their secret” with anyone—with a dire warning of what might happen if they do.) Let your children know they can always talk to you, especially if someone has told them to keep a secret.
- Talk to them about face-to-face meetings with people they meet on the internet, and that they should never agree to do so without first consulting you or another trusted adult such as a teacher, coach, or counselor. Remind them that when new “friends” seem “too good to be true” that should be a warning flag to proceed with great caution.
- Tell them to never feel ashamed about making a decision to leave a situation or relationship where they feel unsafe or are being harmed or threatened. Explain how predators will try to manipulate them with shame or feign hurt feelings if your child chooses to leave that relationship, and how these can be important signs a person should not be Real friends will care about your child’s feelings, respect their wishes, and give them space—even if that makes their friend sad or hurt.
- Take time to listen to your child. Let them know by your words and actions that you are always there for them. Pay attention to what they say to you about new friends, or what you overhear from their conversations with peers. “Listening” also means paying attention to any unusual changes in your child’s behavior. This includes sudden good moods, which may indicate they have met someone who is now showering them with attention.
- Lastly, tell your child that if they are in immediate danger or are being physically harmed, they should call 911 for help as soon as possible. Other important phone numbers are the Runaway Hotline (1-800-Runaway) and the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888- 3737-888 or text “BeFree” ). Remind them that you will not always be available when they or a friend may be in danger, and that it is very important to have these numbers on speed dial in their phones. (Not in the U.S.? Many other countries have similar hotline )
These 10 suggestions will help protect your child from human trafficking. But use caution when and how you have these conversations with your children. Try not telling them all at once, as this will reduce memory retention and likely fill them with fear. Cushion these hard truths by sandwiching them in love and affirmation from you. It is very important that they first feel very secure in your family setting. Remind them that there are many more kind, loving people in the world than there are those who would seek to harm and exploit them but knowing the information you are sharing with them will help them identify the “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
And remember, there is no better defense than a strong offense—and the best offense is to
provide them with a loving home environment and a wisely chosen community of friends.