One of the most common questions we get when out in our community is this:
How can I keep my kids safe from traffickers?
This is a good, healthy concern! While child sex trafficking does impact some communities more than others, it affects every demographic—every gender, ethnicity, economic status, geographic community, age, and religion. With the prevalence of news surrounding the trafficking of minors including powerful men who have been indicted on trafficking-related charges, nation-wide federal raids, and the release of child sex trafficking victim Cyntoia Brown—it’s easy to let the fear creep in. It’s easy to only see the danger. But there are ways to help safeguard your children and reduce their vulnerability by increasing their awareness of what trafficking attempts may look like and developing their ability to advocate for themselves.
As we approach the back-to-school season, we’re going to be blogging about what trafficking might look like in various spaces your child might visit: online, on public transit, around school grounds, and in public spaces like the mall. With each space will come practical information on how your child might be able to identify a potential trafficking situation, how to get out of it once it’s been identified, and what to do if a situation goes too far.
Today, we want to start by laying some groundwork that we’ll refer back to in this blog series—this is at the core of every other safety tactic we’ll share. The best frontline defense against trafficking attempts starts with you: the parent. In our 2013 blog 6 ways parents can protect their children from sex trafficking we lead with the most important defense: Set a high standard of love in your home.
Set a high standard of love in your home.
One of the most common stories we hear from survivors, and especially survivors who were recruited and victimized as minors, is that they did not know they were loved. You have the incredible opportunity to shape your child’s perception of love—that it is kind, protective, and tenaciously unconditional. It does not abuse, it does not manipulate or exploit, it can neither be bought nor sold, and is not quickly pulled away when their behavior does not meet expectations. You are your child’s standard of love—and the higher you set that standard, the less susceptible to trafficking your child will be.
Teach them their worth from an early age.
“You’re worth $200.” This is a quote from one survivor who came from a broken family and was taught her worth by her first pimp at age 18. “Human beings are priceless.” This is a quote from the same survivor who has spent the last year unlearning the worth she was taught by sex buyers—and learning for the first time, her true worth. By reiterating, time and time again, to your child that they are infinitely worthy of love, dignity, and respect, they will be more resistant to exchanging their immeasurable worth for things like money, gifts, or a false love that exploits and abuses.
Empower your children to self-advocate.
Once the groundwork of a high standard of love and self-worth is laid, empower your children to let their feelings, ideas, and choices be known. Listen carefully and intently when they express their feelings, opinions, and ideas, so they know their words and thoughts are valuable. Invite them to solve problems and make decisions on their own, so as they’re presented with bigger problems as they grow up, they know they're capable of solving them too. Teach them that when they encounter a problem too big or a choice too difficult that it’s ok to ask for help, too.
Teach about consent and bodily autonomy.
Each person’s body is their own—and from a young age, it’s important to empower children to make their own choices about their body. By respecting their personal choices about what they do with their body—for example, if they don’t want to sit on Grandma’s lap—they learn it’s ok to advocate for their own bodily autonomy. Physical affection should never be forced, as it teaches that forced affection is acceptable behavior. Allowing your child to say “no” to physical contact, and respecting and supporting them in that decision helps them learn to say “no”, and advocate for themselves when an unwanted touch occurs.
Create a safe space for them to tell you anything.
This will likely be an outcome of enacting the four points above—but it’s still important to be clear that, no matter what is shared, your love will be unconditionally present. From an early age, even when the tiniest things go wrong, react out of love and be a safe sounding board for your child’s feelings, ideas, and problems. Rather than offering solutions right off the bat, invite conversation that leads them and empowers them to seek solutions that honor themselves, and uphold their own worth. By creating this foundation of trust and safety, your child will be more likely to share with you when something serious goes wrong.