By Mitzi Perdue
In the past, it made sense to worry about your child being kidnapped and then sex trafficked. Today, while human trafficking is still one of the top threats to our children, it’s only rarely that this threat takes the form of a kidnapping.
Instead, it’s something much more insidious, and it’s often close to invisible. Unless you’re looking for it.
According to Brian Searcy, Col (Ret) USAF from the Paratus Group, “A social media app on the child’s smart phone is a much more likely source of danger.”
Traffickers study social media to find out what’s going on in a youngster’s life. If a trafficker discovers a deficit in the child’s life, such as, for instance, the parents aren’t giving the young person the attention he or she craves, the trafficker may be able to lure the child into a conversation on a phone app or on the internet.
The trafficker could be grooming many dozens of children at the same time, but to his intended victim, the trafficker becomes the most important part in the child’s life. The trafficker “understands” the child and “cares” about him or her.
The trafficker’s goal is for the child to form intense emotional bonds with him. And they know just how to do it.
“Traffickers can get children to do things that a parent would never dream of,” points out Searacy. “I’m familiar with the case of a 13-year old girl who got in her parents’ car and drove 200 miles to meet a stranger she’d fallen in love with on social media.”
The story has a good ending because authorities were able to get the little girl back before a disaster happened. But still, how do you prevent this kind of thing, when you can hardly imagine that things like this could happen?
Searcy’s approach is about developing a mind set that enables parents or caregivers to protect their kids. And by the way, he’s an advocate of tough love.
As an example, when you let a young person have a smart phone, don’t assume the child is smart enough to stay away from danger. This isn’t about trusting the child: it’s about your responsibility to protect the child from mistakes that the youngster could easily make.
When you first give the child a phone, lay down the ground rules that you’re going to be checking what he or she is doing with the phone. If it gets to the point where, say, a 13-year-old refuses to let you monitor her phone, that is a very serious indicator that it’s time for some tough love.
Something is going on that she needs to be protected from. Take away her phone.
“The fact that they won’t let you look is often a symptom and not the real problem. You need to be a detective to find out what’s really going on,” insists Searcy.
He goes on to say, “You can’t find the problem unless you ask questions. You may find out that she’s having a conversation with a boy that she shouldn’t be having.”
The point is, at this age, children need parental involvement and parental protection. A child isn’t old enough or experienced enough to be safe. And you need to stop a problem as early as possible, because it it’s likely to get worse.
How do parents learn to navigate these tricky situations? For Searcy, the answer is situational awareness.
He has on-line courses on this for schools, churches, businesses and parents. The courses teach people to be aware of threats and also to know the actions people can and should take. To learn more about programs for parents, go to. www.Paratus.group
Mitzi Perdue is the founder of Win This Fight, an organization designed to help meet two of the biggest needs of other anti-trafficking organizations: funding for their services and awareness of the need for those services. Contact her at www. WinThisFight.org.