Knowing the signs: Protecting your kids from trafficking and abuse
Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that denies freedom to 24.9 million people worldwide. While the fact that children make up nearly one-third of identified victims may already be shocking, experts estimate that the number is actually much higher since many minors avoid coming forward about their abuse. What’s more, human trafficking is a fast-growing crime, which makes it more important than ever to keep our kids safe.
Parents can play a big role in fighting the rise of human trafficking. By learning the warning signs of trafficking and abuse, as well as taking preventative measures in your home, you can be the guardian your child needs. Here’s what you can do to take action.
Know the signs of trafficking and abuse
Human trafficking involves horrific crimes, which often include forced labor and sexual exploitation. While it’s hard to believe that trafficking can occur right under our noses, the truth is that victims aren’t always kidnapped, and many still live in their own homes. In fact, forced pornography, which can occur over the web, is one of the most common forms of sex trafficking.
Victims may appear to live perfectly normal lives, but their trauma typically bleeds through. Child trafficking victims often display changes in behavior, changes in attire, bruising, poor school attendance, and more. They may also have an older or highly controlling partner. Children who experience sexual abuse may also experience issues with sleep and display shyness or seductive behavior.
If you notice the warning signs of trafficking and abuse, you can reach out to a nonprofit like the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) or the Center for Prevention of Abuse (1-800-559-7233) to discuss next steps. This may involve expressing your concern to your child and gently encouraging them to open up.
Teach your kids about online safety
Children are using the internet more than ever. While there are plenty of positives to staying connected online, the internet can also be an entry point for human traffickers. To protect your children as they use the web, you need to educate your kids about the fundamentals of online safety. For instance, teaching kids about password privacy, public Wi-Fi dangers, and identity theft can help them make smarter choices and walk away from signs of danger.
Parents can also encourage kids to think critically about what they post on social media and to make their profiles private. This makes it less likely that your child will put themselves in a situation in which they can be coerced into sexual acts or forced labor — for instance, if a predator threatens to expose a damaging video from the past when a teen is applying to colleges. Public profiles on platforms like TikTok, which is filled with minors, can also expose teens to inappropriate messages from strangers.
Encourage openness about online interactions
More children are using the internet to make friends than ever. Even gaming apps are increasingly becoming social. While not all online interactions are dangerous, it’s important to recognize that a child’s yearning for friendships, attention, and even romantic relationships can hinder their sense of online safety.
Helping your kids distinguish between good friends and bad actors on the web is all about discussing the risks of online friendships while being supportive of healthy connections. This can encourage your child to be open about their online interactions, whether they’ve witnessed online bullying or received a message they’re uncomfortable about, so you can act as a guide. For instance, if your child mentions that an online friend has asked for their address, you can walk them through why giving out personal information to strangers on the internet can be dangerous.
Parents should be able to spot signs that their children are engaging in potentially harmful situations, too. For example, your child may start spending more time online, exhibit secretive behavior, or receive unexpected gifts from an unknown person. Trafficking often starts when predators gain a child’s trust, so preventing abuse depends on your ability to take action early.
Include your child when setting ground rules
For many kids — especially teens — a concerned parent who’s constantly monitoring their online behavior can feel domineering. This can give them reason to become secretive, even when they’re doing nothing wrong, or rebel from your online safety rules. However, you can increase your child’s cooperation with your online safety plan by including them in the conversation.
Allow your child to express their thoughts about screen time limitations, parental controls, and more. If you’re considering using monitoring tools that may impede your child’s privacy, listen to their concerns and work with them to find a solution that builds trust on both sides.
Protect your kids from trafficking and abuse
Educating your child about online safety and encouraging open conversations are two of the best tactics for preventing trafficking and abuse. However, since human trafficking can occur right under our noses, it’s also important to recognize warning signs that your child is in or at risk of being in a dangerous situation. This way, you can step in to prevent criminals from reaching out to your child online or end a damaging situation as soon as possible.
Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer from the lovely “city of trees”- Boise, Idaho. Her love of writing pairs with her passion for social activism and search for the truth. You can find more of her writing on her Contently.