April is Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so it’s a good time to educate yourself on child luring and human trafficking. The most important thing you can do to protect your children is to become aware of the tactics predators use. According to the National Trafficking Hotline, your child is more likely to be approached by someone they know — a friend, a friend of a friend, or a friend of the family — than a stranger.
However, that friend may be being manipulated by people she or he doesn’t really know.
A writer and mother of two daughters, Agnes (not her real name) was horrified to learn that her daughter’s friends were being lured by other teens at a roller coaster park and popular hang-out for kids. Traffickers were paying cute boys a couple hundred dollars to flirt with girls and get their addresses, phone numbers, Facebook addresses and other online handles. Once the predators got this information, they began stalking the girls — taking photos of them smoking, flirting or doing anything questionable.
Afterward, they messaged these girls, telling them if they didn’t send the stalker a nude selfie or do what the person asked, the stalker would tell the girls’ parents what they did at the amusement park. That is how easily the luring, grooming, manipulation, threats and, finally, trafficking began. Sometimes the traffickers threatened to harm the girls’ families if they didn’t comply. The targeted girls weren’t from vulnerable socio-economic groups, either. These days, anyone can be targeted, any time.
Jenny Coleman, director of Stop It Now!, a national organization that focuses on protecting children from sexual abuse and trafficking, warns, “Parents need to be careful and monitor their children’s online activity.” She cautions to put safety ahead of privacy.
Below are some ways you can protect your children:
- Predators target children through comment sections on YouTube and other messaging and gaming apps, requesting photographs, addresses, online handles or personal information. They often will pretend to be another child. But do you know who is really on that app? Make sure you check and confirm identities.
- According to the National Trafficking Hotline, children usually are lured through befriending, boyfriending, and/or the promise of romance. If your child has a new romantic interest or friend, make sure you meet them in person.
- Educate. Sit down and discuss family rules and healthy boundaries with your child. Children need to know what’s appropriate sexual behavior and what’s not.
- “Adults actively preying on kids look for kids who don’t have active parents,” says Coleman. So get involved in your child’s activities, have eyes on the scene and online. If your child is offered money or a new job, make sure it’s legit.
- Predators go after children who are vulnerable in some way: grieving, worried, isolated or lonely. Be wary if someone offers to take your teen for a drive or to a place she’s never been before — even if the driver is the same gender. Girls are sometimes used to lure other girls. Traffickers occasionally drug, rape and photograph young girls, then threaten and manipulate them. Have your daughter photograph the license plate of every car she gets in, and let her know that no matter what she’s done, or what other people say, she can always come home and talk to you.
Kelly Watt is a writer and activist based in Ontario, Canada. Her novel about child luring, “Mad Dog,” was released in the U.S. with Hamilton Stone Editions (2019).