FEATURED WRITER: LAUREN B.
A personal trainer, caretaker, and survivor.
Child sex trafficking is not an easy topic to discuss, but it's a necessary one. As someone who experienced sexual abuse as a child, I have a window into this topic that those who are lucky enough not to have had such an experience may not (although from what I know this is a more common experience than any of us would like to believe and there are more people who have experienced this than those who haven’t.)
The case of Cyntoia Brown has drawn a lot of attention to this topic since her recent release after serving 15 of her 31 years of life in prison for the murder and robbery of a man who had paid to have sex with her (although she says she had not yet engaged in any intercourse at the time of the shooting while he was asleep.) There have surely been countless other cases of women being held responsible for killing men who have either paid or sold them for sex in order to escape the situation, a sad glitch in our justice system for sure. These young women are conditioned to fear what will happen if they try to flee the situation they’re in. Oftentimes, violence is the only way they believe they can ensure their safety when they do so. Is it really surprising that they sometimes resort to murder?
Other stories that have drawn large amounts of attention and struck fear into the hearts of parents are those of Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped from her own bedroom, and the three young women kidnapped by Ariel Castro and kept as his own sexual prisoners for an entire decade only blocks from their homes and families. While neither were sold for sex to other people and were kept for sexual purposes by their captors, what's scary about their cases is that it happened right under their parents' noses.
So what can we do to keep this from happening? The best tool is awareness. Find out who the sex offenders are in your neighborhood. Teach your kids what to do and not to do when responding to strangers who may approach them. These strategies will help with younger children, but what about young adults who are out there in the dating world and get pushed into sex for hire by someone they thought they were dating? What about young women who are snatched from places like bars or hotels and never seen again because they’re being sold into sexual slavery? These young adults tend to be kidnapped somewhere other than their home towns and/or sent somewhere far away to avoid their being recognized. Once they’re gone and in the hands of their perpetrators who buy and sell their sexual services as if they were everyday items, there is often little to be done other than hope they find their way home.
The first important step in preventing these actions from happening is not being afraid to invade your teenagers’ privacy on social media. Look into deleted messages so you can be aware of who they may be talking to even when they know they shouldn’t. Teenagers think they know everything-I sure remember thinking that- and it's a parent’s job to remind them that they don’t. If they won’t take your word for it things can certainly get rough between you, but one day they’ll understand that your rules existed for a reason.
Storytime: When I was 18 I joined Match.com on my phone. It was slow and glitchy, but it was free and allowed me to meet guys I wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance to meet. I listed my actual age and posted a picture, and started getting messages and requests pretty quickly from guys anywhere from 18 to 40. Although I didn’t respond to anyone over 30, I was amazed at how many of these older guys were interested in talking to an 18 year old, particularly one like me who looked closer to 15. The funniest thing was that some guys even told me I looked underage and yet were still interested in me…I couldn’t help wondering whether that meant they would actually engage with underage girls? Since it was mostly the older men, I wasn't interested in who said these sorts of things, although I did file it away in the back of my mind for future use in determining whether a guy was a creep or not. If someone told me I looked that young and that they believed me to be underage before approaching me,I labeled them a “creep” from the get-go and stopped engaging. I believe this more than likely saved me from a lot of dangerous encounters with men who were on the lookout for underage girls to traffic.
As a Sylvester Stallone fan I was one of the first in line to see Rambo: Last Blood in 2019. The center of the movie was the kidnapping of his teenage niece Gabriela by Mexican Cartel, who was then sent into a sex trafficking ring along with a group of other young girls. He sets out to find her and when he does, she is shown to be in a drugged state having been repeatedly injected with something that appeared to have similar effects to heroin. Sadly she dies in his truck as they escape; the only saving grace of the scene is that she recognizes that her uncle saved her before she passes. The scene where she is shown being injected with the drug has stuck with me ever since, and I can't help wondering how many girls end up in that exact situation and never get out of it--because that was a movie and sadly most people don't have uncles who are Rambo. Most of these girls are never found, but if they escape their situation, the result is drug use to blot out the pain of their existence and or continue to sell their body for a living. Both prostitution and drug use are difficult cycles to escape from let alone the shame.
Most importantly, as a society, we need to address all types of sexual abuse by tackling the issue of not believing women when they report these happenings. I know as a child I never reported what happened to me at the hands of a family friend because of the humiliation. I was unsure whether people would believe me, and if they did I was worried my dad would do something to this person that would land him in legal trouble himself instead of the man getting in trouble for what he did to me. There is a lot of confusion that comes with sexual abuse no matter what age but the younger it begins, the more confused the victim will likely be regarding how to address the situation.
Sex trafficking can happen to children of either gender at any age, but girls age 12 through 17 are the most at risk as they are the most likely to be runaways, end up homeless when they either stray too far from home, or fall into drug addiction. This can often lead to a necessity of selling their bodies to get the drugs they need whether they want to or not. This information slightly clashes with what I said earlier in this post about limiting teens' access to the internet and social media is a good solution regardless of how angry they get with their parents. Teens often run away due to that very reason, being angry with their parents over disciplinary action. But most often teens who actually go through with packing up their stuff and run anywhere other than a friends house are the ones who feel neglected and like their parents don't care about them either way, and though teens certainly may get angry about being disciplined I know I always understood that it was done out of love and never once considered going any further then the next town over to get away from it all. Overall the best solution seems to me to be paying attention to what your kids are doing and knowing as much as you can about who they are talking to and how far any social media accounts they may have can reach and who they are accessible to. Lastly, make sure they know without a shadow of a doubt that anything you do as a parent is done not for spite or just for the heck of it, but out of love and caring for their well being.