Sex trafficking is a global issue – predominantly affecting women and children – in which individuals are sold repeatedly for the purpose of sexual exploitation – a form of modern slavery. The phrase “runaway prevention is human trafficking prevention” is more relevant today than ever before. Those who are homeless or runaways are more susceptible to falling victim to sex trafficking. Lacking support networks, these individuals are easier to target, groom, and deceive into being sex trafficked.
Although sex traffickers still hunt for their next victims on the street and at family-oriented places such as malls and schools, many predators today are using social media as a tool to prey on their next victims. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that there has been a 93% increase in “online enticement reports targeting kids between January and June of this year compared to the same time last year.” A 93% increase in one year. Sex traffickers can easily target individuals via social media due to the unsafe practices that many of us partake in, such as; having public accounts, oversharing personal information about family and friends, oversharing information about work and school life, and constantly sharing your location. However, even without partaking in any of these unsafe practices, children are more vulnerable online. The Instagram account @barktechnologies is an excellent page to follow, especially for parents with children using social media. This page frequently shares safety tips to use online and draws awareness to any risky websites, apps, etc.
Rachel Lloyd, founder and executive director of Girls Education and Mentoring Service, says, “there’s that appeal of being wanted and being loved … [when] someone comes along who can offer that, it’s incredibly compelling, it’s very easy to get hooked into someone who’s promising them the world.” Contrary to what many believe, sex traffickers do not (typically) kidnap victims and hold them hostage – it’s usually a process of grooming the victims, gaining their trust, and developing a relationship. Barbara Amaya – trafficked from the age of 12 up until the age of 24 – said, “for me as an abused child of 12, bringing the trafficker cash money each night after being raped by 10 to 20 men, seeing that I made him, the trafficker, happy, was the same as getting an A on a school report. The human brain doesn’t differentiate. All the brain knows is, ‘Wow, I made this person happy. Now I feel happy, too.’ “ This relates to what Lloyd stated. Sex traffickers often prey upon those that are vulnerable and appear weak – making it easier for them (sex traffickers) to enter their lives, groom them and make them feel that there’s somebody in the world who finally cares about them – hence, making it easier to exploit them.
There are a multitude of precautions we can practice to make sure we’re doing all we can to stay safe. Below are some basic tips you should follow in order to remain safe.
- Always Be Vigilant of Your Surroundings
Make sure you are always aware of what’s going on around you. Avoid being in a constant state of distraction by your phone or fidgeting in your purse/bag. If you’re wearing headphones, ensure the volume isn’t too loud, so you are able to hear what’s going on around you. If you are lost, try not to make it obvious that you are, this places you in a state of vulnerability to others.
- Avoid Walking Alone
If you are able to do so, avoid walking/traveling alone – especially in quiet and secluded areas, and at night. If you travel alone, consider staying on the phone with a family member or friend – anything that makes you feel more comfortable traveling alone.
- Share Your Location
On most devices, you are able to share your location. Sharing your location with friends and family is something that everyone should consider whether you share it with one or two people. By doing so, these people are always aware of your whereabouts. Many are already aware of how to share their location on an Apple device, but for the Android users who are unaware of how to share your location, you can learn here.
- Be Prepared For Anything
If you can, carry items easily accessible as a means of self-defense, such as pepper spray, a taser, etc. Be prepared to make a scene, scream as loud as you can – anything to draw attention towards yourself if something were to happen.
- Download Useful Apps
“Citizen” and “Noonlight” are good apps to keep on your phone and use. Citizen shares live safety alerts based on your location while Noonlight “silently summon(s) help to your exact location with the tap of a button.”
- Stay Safe Online
Always be careful of what you post online, especially if your accounts are public – you never know who could be watching. Be wary of who follows or adds you on any social media accounts. Avoid sharing the places you visit – especially while you are at that location and/or if those locations are ones you visit frequently and are near your home.
- Always Trust Your Instincts
Never second guess any gut feelings you may have. Always listen to what your intuition is telling you and take the necessary precautions.
It’s almost impossible to know the signs of sex traffickers because they can be anyone, and there are usually no visible signs of a sex trafficker that you can easily spot. Besides knowing the signs of sex traffickers, it is equally important to know the signs of sex trafficking victims. Some signs that a person may be a victim to sex trafficking (or human trafficking in general) include but are not limited to;
- A malnourished appearance
- Signs of physical injuries and/or abuse
- Avoiding eye contact
- Having scripted or rehearsed responses
- Signs of “branding” (branding tattoos or burns)
- Being with another person that doesn’t allow them to speak for themselves
- A lack of legal documentation/identification
- Lacking personal possessions
- Poor physical health (including dental)
- Unexplained absences
- Avoiding any social interactions – especially avoiding interactions with authority figures
If you suspect anyone you know may be a victim of sex trafficking, you should immediately contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline; 1(888) 373-7888.
Please practice the tips above to remain safe and stay alert and practice other tips catered to specified situations available online.