As we wrap up January’s focus on human trafficking awareness, I believe it’s vitally important that parents of all stages understand the grave reality of sex trafficking and the risks factors associated with it. Many believe this crime only happens in other countries or in large cities, but in actuality, it is happening at an alarming rate in our own neighborhoods and communities right here in the U.S. The first step in prevention is to educate ourselves and then make our children aware of the danger.
In my work with thousands of sex trafficking survivors for more than a decade, I have come to realize an all-too-common theme: an overwhelming percent of sex-trafficking victims experienced childhood sexual abuse. In fact, as many as 92% of sex trafficking survivors were sexually abused as children, with many of them reporting the abuse beginning as early as three to four years of age. And, unfortunately, childhood sexual abuse is far more common than most of us realize: one out of three girls and one out of five boys are sexually abused as children, more than 90% of them at the hands of someone they know.
For those children abused by a close relative or someone in their own home, they may have felt they had no one safe to turn to and began to believe that life on the street may be better than what they were facing at home. Unfortunately traffickers are skilled in spotting vulnerable children. These run-aways may as well have the word “victim” tattooed on their foreheads.
Statistics show that within 48 hours of running away, one in three children will be approached by a trafficker, who will promise them safety, love and a solution to meet their most basic needs. They’ll say things like, “I bet you’re hungry” or “your parents don’t know how to love you” to manipulatively gain the child’s trust. The traffickers’ aim is to make them feel loved, but the situation will quickly turn into a nightmare they can’t escape. At the average age of 12-14, they’ll wind up being sold for sex anywhere from 15-40 times a day.
So, how can we prevent and get out ahead of this scourge? It starts by knowing the warning signs of childhood sexual abuse and then empowering the next generation with knowledge and resources to protect themselves and their peers.