Sex Trafficking: Should Parents Be Worried?

I recently saw a news article reporting that numerous arrests had been made due to the criminal activities of an alleged sex trafficking ring targeting the Superbowl. It seems sporting events, such as the Superbowl, where large groups are gathered, pose great opportunity for sex traffickers wanting to exploit trafficked victims for money. Given that these trafficked victims could be anyone’s child, parents cannot help but ask themselves, “How worried should I be that my child might become a victim of sex trafficking? How can I make sure my child never falls prey to this?”

Before I answer this, it might be helpful to know some statistics and facts about sex trafficking. According to Huffington Post, sex trafficking is a $32 billion industry. We often stereotype sex trafficking victims as foreigners who are kidnapped internationally and smuggled into the United States. While international persons are certainly victims, we often forget that over 200,000 annual victims are U.S. citizens who are bought, sold, and taken right here on U.S. soil. These U.S. citizens are taken and sold to profiteers who use them for forced labor or they are made to perform sexual acts in person or over the Internet. It is not surprising, then, that there are more slaves living in the United States now than ever before in history with two thirds of these victims being female and even underage.

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Why has this become such an overwhelming problem? A whole host of issues are contributing to this problem so, room permitting, I will address only a few of the major reasons here. Two major culprits include the Internet and easy access to live pornography. The Internet fuels sex trafficking by offering direct access to vulnerable youth who can be manipulated online and who eventually become sex slaves. The Internet and porn industry offer 1) easy access to customers wanting to purchase sex; and 2) an online porn industry where traffickers can sell online viewing of sexual acts as well as access to sexual victims.

Is this scary for parents? YES! Because the consequences are so dire for youth taken by traffickers, a few parental precautions are in order. First, I suggest that parents keep close tabs on their child’s Internet usage. What sites are they visiting? Who are they talking to? Informed parents might be able to stop a trafficker’s online manipulation before it is too late. Parents should have online safeguards in place to protect their children from the manipulative tactics of criminals. Second, parents need to know their children’s friends and families. It may sound ridiculous to spend time getting to know your teen’s friends, but better to be informed than to find out after this “friend” manipulates your child into the trafficker’s clutches. I don’t think we should spend our lives paranoid, but I do think precautions may mean the difference between being victimized and living a healthy, happy life.

Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes, other family and social gatherings, and children's bedrooms screen free. Turn off televisions that you aren't watching, because background TV can get in the way of face-to-face time with kids. Recharge devices overnight—outside your child's bedroom to help him or her avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping. These changes encourage more family time, healthier eating habits, and better sleep.