Part of the Sex-Trafficking: A Parent's Guide to Protecting Your Child Series
After her arrest for solicitation at “The Big Game,” Michelle fumed at the inaction of sitting in a holding cell with the other women. Soon, she was sitting in front of an overworked social worker and dodging uncomfortable questions. Her pimp was going to be furious and force Michelle to make up for all this lost time once she got back to him.
So, Michelle lied — she lied about everything to the social worker. Since her fingerprints were in the system from the search her dad had conducted for her years ago, authorities called him to come pick her up. In just a few hours she would see her father again, and Michelle struggled to figure out a way to escape his clutches so she could return home to her pimp.
Why would she want to go back to that life with her dad? Why would she want to face the shaming from her family? Was she supposed to just reconnect with the girls who used to be her friends, and talk about boys and makeup? Go back to church and endure the stares of everyone who knew what a terrible tramp she had been?
When Michelle’s father arrived at the police station, he took the advice of the social worker and contacted charitable organizations that work with former sex slaves. One of them had space available and took Michelle into the program.
In the months and years that followed, Michelle found peace and forgiveness from her ordeal, and now she travels the nation speaking to school groups about what she endured.
Next Steps: What Can You Do?
When confronted with the reality — and enormity — of sex trafficking, it is easy to become overwhelmed and be tempted to ignore the topic. That impulse, according to author Nita Belles, is exactly what the traffickers want all parents, grandparents, and concerned adults to do: Don’t think about it, don’t talk about it, and don’t act to prevent it.
Here are a few ways you can help reduce the specter of sex trafficking in your community — and across the nation:
- Foster Care: Consider taking a foster child into your home. Children who have challenging family dynamics or are wards of the state are at the greatest risk for becoming runaways and targets of sex traffickers.
- Community and Church Outreach: Volunteer with an organization that reaches children and youth who may be at risk of falling prey to sexual predators. Invite your church to engage this issue through forming a support group for victims of sex trafficking or connect with a local shelter that helps victims. It is also important to encourage your church family to pray about this issue.
- Legislate: Find out how your state laws measure up in the fight against human trafficking (here). Then work with your state Family Policy Council to promote positive legislation and as well as education, training and awareness.
- Support Anti- Sex Slavery Organizations: Organizations, such as Shared Hope and Polaris Project, exist to locate and free victims from sex trafficking. These groups also to provide resources like counseling and shelter, and welcome volunteer and financial support. One challenge facing law enforcement and rescue groups is the required “catch and release” of trafficked victims. Many laws prohibit treating the victims as criminals — which is a right response— but leaves few options for the rescued individual. Victims are often afraid and have no desire to return to their homes and prior lives, resisting all efforts to reveal their identities and family connections. Space in the shelters designed to help sex-trafficking victims recuperate is very limited. In fact, the first U.S. home for trafficked boys and men opened in 2015.
- Be Alert: Many success stories of people being saved from sex slavery are the result of an alert bystander who received training to recognize the signs of trafficking. Organizations, such as Truckers against Trafficking and Airline Ambassadors, provide training in how to spot human trafficking and take action. They offer steps we all can take to be more alert, aware and able to respond if we see something that looks out of place.
If you or your child is concerned about someone you know or something you see, consider these warning signs, provided by Shared Hope International, that an individual may be trafficked:
- Signs of physical abuse, such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
- Unexplained absences from class
- Less appropriately dressed than before
- Sexualized behavior
- Overly tired in class
- Withdrawn, depressed or distracted
- Brags about making or having lots of money
- Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
- New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking)
- Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
- Talks about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
- Shows signs of gang affiliation a preference for specific colors, notebook doodles of gang symbols
Finally, if you see any of these signs or suspect a young person is being trafficked, please don't wait — call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (listed below), to report a tip or connect with anti-trafficking services in your area.