January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Sex trafficking is one of the worst things that happens in our world today. And, I’m going to be honest, it’s very difficult to write about. But it’s so important that we are aware of what’s happening in our world so that we can prevent it and protect each other and our children.
What is sex trafficking?
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act – which was passed in 2000 in the U.S. and officially made trafficking illegal – defines sex trafficking as:
The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.22 U.S.C. § 7102
So basically what this means is victims of sex trafficking are those who are forced to have sex (or any kind of sexual act) in exchange for money or something of value. The ‘something of value’ can be food, shelter, or other necessities. If the victim is under the age of 18, there does not need to be force, fraud or coercion for it to be considered sex trafficking.
The definition here clarifies something that’s very important: there is no such thing as a ‘child prostitute.’ Children who are used for sexual acts are victims 100% of the time. It doesn’t matter how they ended up there, children should never be used by adults for sex.
How prevalent is human trafficking?
Trafficking can feel like it’s not that common – especially if you don’t know of anyone who has been trafficked or you don’t see evidence of it in your day to day life. But human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, affecting nearly 25 million people across the globe. Approximately 4.8 million of those people are involved in sex trafficking. Of course, there isn’t a reliable way we can know the true number of victims.
It can be easy to assume that sex trafficking happens to other people in other countries. However, it is a huge problem right here in the United States – to U.S. citizens. According to a study of the U.S. Department of Justice human trafficking task force cases, 83 percent of sex trafficking victims in the United States were U.S. citizens.
What’s worse is that more than 1 in 5 trafficking victims are children.
Source: International Labour Office. (2017). Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage. Geneva: International Labour Organization. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf
What are signs of a trafficking victim?
The Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking created these fantastic graphics to help us raise awareness of common trafficking indicators:
What can I do to help fight sex trafficking?
Stop watching pornography
Pornography and the sex trafficking industry are undeniably linked. For example, if a child (anyone under the age of 18) is being used in pornographic material, this is defined as sex trafficking. And one of the most common searches related to porn include the terms ‘youth’ or ‘teen.’ If you are watching pornography that involves a person under the age of 18, you are watching a victim of sex trafficking and thereby contributing to the demand for sex trafficking.
Even if you’re watching porn with only adults involved, there is no way to know if that person has been coerced (and therefore is a victim of sex trafficking). In one survey of underage sex trafficking victims, 63% said they were advertised or sold online (source).
Additionally, sex traffickers often use pornography to groom and desensitize their victims.
To read more about this, read: Porn and Human Trafficking and Is the Porn Industry Connected to Sex Trafficking?
Learn how porn is rewiring your brain: Covenant Eyes Your Brain on Porn
If you want help with ending an addiction to pornography, or if you want to protect those in your family from accessing pornography, check out Covenant Eyes. Sign up with promo code MAYHEM30 to receive 30 days FREE.
If you want to be able to spot victims of sex trafficking in order to help them, it’s important to get training and learn the indicators. Polaris Project has an excellent FREE training online: Polaris Project Training
There is a lot of false information out there about trafficking. For the truth about sex trafficking myths, read here.
Often, victims are helped by teachers, healthcare workers and police. If you fall into any of those categories, please educate yourself on how to spot a victim and what to do when you suspect someone is being trafficked.
If you’re an educator, please read this guide about Human Trafficking in American Schools.
If you are a healthcare worker, read this guide: Recognizing and Responding to Human Trafficking in a Healthcare Context.
For law enforcement, please read: The Crime of Human Trafficking: A Law Enforcement Guide to Identification and Investigation.
Volunteer & Give
Get in touch with your local human trafficking commission and find out how you can help. You can also find a local shelter for trafficking victims and volunteer to help out. You will need to go through training as well as a background check.
My family is involved with a local safe house for teenage girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking called Bridging Freedom. We lead a weekly Bible study there, where we get to teach the girls about God and show them His love for them. I can’t tell you what a difference this has made in my life – and I pray that it makes a difference in theirs as well. To learn more about Bridging Freedom and to donate to their amazing cause, visit: https://www.bridgingfreedom.org/
To find an organization near you, search here: National Human Trafficking Hotline Referral Directory
How can I protect my child from sex trafficking?
The Pasco County Commission on Human Trafficking provided these graphics for me to use:
The bottom line: Have the hard conversations about sex, the Internet and sex trafficking
The unfortunate truth of living in such a sex-filled society is that at a certain age, if our kids aren’t learning about sex from us, they’re learning about it from someone else. Whether that’s via social media, TV shows, or other kids their age – it’s not really possible for kids to reach adulthood without learning about sex from someone.
So, wouldn’t you rather your children learn about sex from you?
Maybe you don’t feel equipped to talk to your child about sex – let alone the dangers of the internet and sex trafficking. If that’s the case, consider this a challenge: get yourself informed. Learn how to talk with your kids about sex, the Internet, and the realities of sex trafficking.
Here are some resources to help you:
Covenant Eye’s Equipped: Raising Godly Digital Natives
For Young Children:
Birds and Bees Instagram account – this is an excellent resource for how to talk with your young children (ages 1-10) about their bodies and sex
For a long list of resources including books, audio, articles and more, check out Focus on the Family’s Sex Education Resources
How do traffickers find their victims?
Prior to my involvement with Bridging Freedom, I thought that probably most sex trafficking victims were kidnapped or forcibly taken from their homes. However, what I’ve learned is that often traffickers will build relationships with their victims first. According to Polaris Project: “In the vast majority of situations of trafficking, the victims knows – and in many cases loves and trusts – the trafficker.”
For example, a trafficker could reach out to a teen online, chat with them and build a relationship with them before the relationship turns sexual. They might send pornographic pictures to the child and ask them to reciprocate. Then, they’ll use that material to coerce the victim into even more sexual behaviors, by blackmailing them (‘I’ll tell your parents what you did if you don’t…’).
Children in foster care, who have run away from home, are homeless or in poverty are at even greater risk for becoming victims of sex trafficking. Traffickers will often offer food or shelter in exchange for sexual acts.
Additionally, if you think your kids are ‘safe’ from sex trafficking because you only have boys – think again. The reality is that boys are also trafficked.
The bottom line: It’s critical for us as parents to know whom our children are talking with online and offline. This takes building trust and having clear boundaries about technology.
Read below for some warning signs of children who are victims of sex trafficking:
Sex trafficking is a big problem. And it’s not some faraway, foreign problem – it is happening right here in the U.S. to adults and children alike. Please don’t just read this article and walk away without doing something. Learn about sex trafficking, figure out how you can help, and please start having conversations with your kids now to protect them in the future.
Please share this article and spread the word about sex trafficking and what you can do to help.