Today’s society has given us a false pretense of security in its technology. Parents happily drop their young teens off at the mall, movie theaters, fairs, and carnivals, believing that their child having a cell phone is all the protection that they need. What they do not realize is that the very thing they believe is protecting their child may, in fact, be exactly why they are at such a risk for human trafficking.
A study by Thorn, a nonprofit dedicated to ending child sex trafficking, found that 55% of domestic minor sex trafficking survivors who entered the life in 2015 or later reported meeting their trafficker for the first time using text, a website, or a mobile app. Similarly, 85% of the entire sample reported their trafficker spent time with them in person to build a relationship. By comparison, only 58% of those who entered the life in 2015 reported time in person as the means for building a relationship. Of those whose trafficker used technology in this process, 63% reported communicating online and 25% reported communicating via phone call.
“Sextortion” is another form of online abuse, not uncommon in the trafficking world. After building a relationship with a young girl, they will ask for pictures. Once received, they will use these pictures as blackmail. Fear of embarrassment, exposure, and shame keep victims from reaching out. They may meet in person, photograph the girls in compromising positions, and then use those as blackmail. In an attempt to keep from being exposed, girls will do what is asked of them, often times this means sexual exploitation.
About half of the respondents with a trafficker said that they could not tell that the person they were communicating with [through social media] was a trafficker. There is no significant difference between those who could or could not tell and the age they entered the life or whether they developed a relationship with the trafficker in person, over the phone, or through texting/chatting. The grooming process does not take very long. Forty-two percent of those with a trafficker said that the trafficker earned their trust within one month of meeting.
You’ll notice in the graph below that the number of children trafficked using social media more than doubles between 10 years old and 16 years old, and drops back down again once a teen reaches about 17. These statistics alone unpack a lot of information about teens and our society. Most children get a cellular device and start using social media around that 11-12 year age range. By 15 or 16 most parents have completely given up keeping track of or trying to limit their child’s social media and cell phone usage, as they believe their “young adult” deserves privacy and trust. By the age of 17, teens are more aware and mature, making them less likely to fall into the trap of trafficking through social media. At that time, they have more freedom to go to events, parties, and travel, where they are more at risk to be taken by strangers while they are away from home.
Teens between 14 and 16 are also more likely to run away. One in 6 U.S. runaways in 2014 were likely victims of child sex trafficking, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. A study in Chicago found that 56% of prostituted women were initially runaway youth and similar numbers have been identified for male populations. Children and teens in the foster system, in abusive homes, and foreign nationals tend to have higher trafficked statistics and are at greater risk, but there are no real lines or features in human trafficking, as it is a trade of opportunity.
In a world of technology, how can you keep your child safe?
Circle of Six — This app lets you add up to 6 people from your contacts to join your Circle. Then with the touch of a button you can send the following commands—the pin icon sends a text and your GPS location to your Circle that says: “Come and get me. I need help getting home safely.” The phone icon sends a text to your Circle that says: “Call and pretend you need me. I need an interruption.” The chat icon sends a text to your Circle that says: “I need to talk.” Your friends can then immediately respond to your situation.
BSafe — BSafe offers 6 features to help you stay safe. The Alarm feature sets off a siren (optional), and bSafe starts recording video and voice as well as sending your GPS location to your chosen friends. The Follow Me feature lets friends follow your movements on the mobile map. Once you have arrived home safely, your friends will be notified. The Fake Call feature will make your phone call you. You can also set it on a timer in advance to have an excuse to leave a situation. The Recording feature automatically starts recording video and audio and the recording is sent your primary person’s mobile phone. The I Am Here feature shares your location with your friends. The Timer feature notifies your friends if you have not checked in within a certain time.
SafeTrek — This is not a free app, and requires a monthly or yearly fee. To use it, open the SafeTrek app and hold your thumb on the safe button. If you determine you are safe, release the button and enter your 4 digit pin. If you are in danger, release the button and do not enter your pin. Local police will be notified of your location and that there’s an emergency.
On the parental end, it is your job to help keep your children safe. “Privacy” is a forfeit to the task of safety. In today’s world of technology, you can not take too many precautions- no matter how trustworthy your child is. Apps like Bark cost a small monthly fee ($9) but can help monitor a wide range of your teens apps and usage. FamilyTime is a comparable app with options like notification if your child leaves a pre-set, geographic, “safe zone.” This has more in-depth control, verses Bark which does more monitoring and notifying.
Social media and technology can be a beautiful thing. It can connect friends and family around the world. We often use it to share news, info that 100 years ago would have taken days or even weeks. It can be used to spread awareness and educate. Organizations like Thorn, are using the internet to help identify, track, and locate both traffickers and victims around the world. Teach your children to respect the internet, to understand that it is both good and bad.
The first step to prevention is education, awareness, and understanding. Greenlight Operation offers age appropriate education and trainings at schools, churches, clubs, events, or other community gatherings. If you would like to schedule a speaking engagement or training event please go to https://www.greenlightoperation.org/schedule-a-training/.
To partner with us financially, read our blog, meet our team, or grab some great swag, visit www.greenlightoperation.org.