Every victim of sexual exploitation is someone’s daughter or son, made in the image of God. Every victim has worth and deserves to be seen.
Sex trafficking: You’ve probably heard of it. This despicable illegal industry has received increased attention on social media lately, and for good reason. Often referred to as a form of modern-day slavery, sex trafficking occurs when an individual is forcefully sexually exploited for commercial purposes. It is also a type of “human trafficking,” which encompasses both sexual slavery and slave labor.
Unfortunately, sex work makes big money for traffickers. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that human trafficking brings in $150 billion annually, with $99 billion being due to commercial sex. The reason that sexual exploitation is so lucrative is because the “product” is reusable. Unlike drugs where there is a one-time profit received from each product sold, victims of sex trafficking can be used over and over and over again.
So how prevalent is sex trafficking? According to the ILO, there were 4.8 million victims of sexual exploitation worldwide in 2016. Of that number, approximately 1 million of those victims were children. Last year, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 11,500 reported cases of human trafficking right here in the United States. These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg. Sex traffickers work underground and are good at what they do. It is not known how many cases go unreported.
Traffickers love to prey upon vulnerable individuals who have dysfunction in some area of their lives. These individuals may come from abusive or broken homes, be involved with drugs, or have mental health issues. Runaways, homeless youth, and those in the foster care system are particularly at risk for exploitation. Victims can be lured through the façade of a friendship or romantic relationship before being coerced into having sex for money. Once trust is built, the trafficker can easily manipulate and control the victim. Sometimes, victims are so brainwashed and emotionally dependent on their traffickers that they don’t even realize they are being exploited.
Barbara Amaya, a survivor who was trafficked from ages 12-24, shared part of her story with the New York Post:
“[Then] he started asking me . . . ‘tell me what happened in your home,’ he came off as my protector, like he was going to help me and love me . . . For me as an abused child of 12, bringing the trafficker cash money each night after being raped by 10 to 20 men, seeing that I made him, the trafficker, happy, was the same as getting an A on a school report. The human brain doesn’t differentiate. All the brain knows is, ‘Wow, I made this person happy. Now I feel happy, too.’ ”
Ways We Can Protect Our Children
We can help fight this battle for our kids. The most effective way to combat sex trafficking is to keep it from happening in the first place. Prevention starts in the home.
- Have internet accountability. Traffickers can now target vulnerable youth from the comfort of their own homes. Social media pages can provide a predator with a wealth of valuable information about potential victims, enabling them to gain their trust. As parents, we should be aware of what social media platforms our kids are involved in, as well as who they are talking to. Keep a family computer in a public area of the house to monitor these things. It is more challenging to know what goes on behind the scenes when kids keep private devices in their rooms.
- Have a code word. Although random abductions are rare, they do happen. A “code word” can help protect children from these kidnappings. It’s like having a password that is only shared with select, trusted individuals in cases of emergency when you can’t be with your child. For example, if a stranger tries to persuade your child to get into his car due to an “emergency,” your child would ask for the code word. If the stranger doesn’t know it, your child would know to run away. Sometimes the would-be kidnapper gets flustered and drives off on his own. There has been more than one case of a child preventing his own abduction by asking for the code word.
- Be a safe place. Kids yearn for stability and thrive in homes full of acceptance, support, and unconditional love. Family life is full of flaws and imperfect people, but it’s important for children to know that parents will be there for them no matter what. Children need security even more when they share vulnerable information with us or when a traumatic event occurs. Let’s strive to use our words to encourage our children and build a foundation of trust.
We can fight for our children . . . and we start in the home.