Educating your children on human trafficking is difficult and absolutely necessary. Many parents are ignorant of the dangers of modern day slavery, or assume that human trafficking is something that only happens outside of the US. This is not true. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, within 48 hours of running away or abandonment, 1 in 3 children will be approached by a pimp or trafficker. The youngest trafficking victim within the last year in Ada County, Idaho was 3 years old. 15 year old Theresa Flores was sold as a sex slave in Ohio for 3 years without her parent’s knowledge out of her parent’s own home. These cases are disturbingly common. Do not assume your children are too young or too safe to have this conversation.
Here are some tips on talking to your kids, to be sure they get the information they need without getting too much of it. There is a fine line here between scaring your children and giving them a healthy fear of people who might hurt them. This is something left to your parental discretion. You will understand your child’s comprehension level and can tailor this discussion to them.
No matter the age, the impression this conversation needs to leave on your child is that there are people who try to control and exploit other people, but that, if they ever see these persons, they are allowed to say no and seek help. For a small child, this might mean explaining that there are bad guys, who might try to get them far away from mom or dad or home and who will not treat them nicely if they do take them.
Keep them safe and informed. Set simple rules with your child you probably already have a semblance of: do not get in a car or leave anyplace with a stranger; if anyone were to ever touch them in a way that made them uncomfortable they should talk to an adult about it. For a teenager this conversation can include specific ways a person might coerce, trick or take advantage of them: ‘Give me your phone’, ‘Better not tell your family, don’t upset them’, ‘I love you, trust me’, etc. It is not uncommon for a slaver to spend months persuading a young person he/she is in love with him/her, in order to convince the young person to travel with them. Oftentimes, when a young person is taken, the trafficker will convince them that law enforcement will hold them responsible for their abuse or other illegal actions. Educate your children in advance that they should alert authorities in the event of kidnapping or slavery, and that their captors will attempt to convince them to do otherwise. If you feel it’s helpful, look up specific cases of human trafficking that you can use as an example of how others were taken.
Don’t hesitate to teach your children basic self-defense. In the context of a small or young child, this mostly involves means of escape. There are moves that involve the child rolling from side to side while in a person’s grip or hold that can make them difficult to hold on to. For an older child or young adult, teach them where and how to strike most effectively on a person to incapacitate them. All of these things can be learned from a martial arts teacher or online.
The internet plays a significant role in the recruitment and selling of people. Have this conversation with your kids before they have computer and internet access. Predators can take all kinds of forms online, and even people they have met in person can become predators on the internet. If ever he/she feels uncomfortable or threatened by a person, online or otherwise, he/she should talk to an adult to discuss ways to restrict that person’s access to them. Keep the use of the computer to the living room or other area of the house where other family members are present; know your child’s screen names and passwords, even if you have your child write them down and put them in a sealed envelope, (in the event that you need to trace your child or know who they have been communicating with); use the parental control settings on your computer to limit use or check the history. Look for warning signs in your children, such as: mood swings and anxiety; new friends who are significantly older; and new gifts, pre-paid credit cards, clothes or cell phones that you did not purchase.
If your child is worried or fearful of being taken themselves, reassure them that you have talked to them about this to make sure that doesn’t happen. They have people who love and protect them that they can always go to if they ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Talking about slavery or sexual abuse beforehand can make your home a safe place to have these discussions, if ever there were a need.
As they learn of slavery in their history classes, clarify to them that slavery is not over. When they are told that slavery was abolished in the 19th century, this is misinformation- slavery was illegalized, not abolished. There are more slaves today than there have ever been before, and now slaves are not just one color or gender- any person can be and has been taken as a trafficking victim. This happens everywhere. Make sure they have the right information! If your children are old enough, encourage them to research on their own the extent of human slavery, and if not, learn about it with them.
Talk about all types of slavery. Explain that a person enslaves another when he/she forces him/her to do something he/she does not want to do by threatening them or not giving them another option. For a small child, that is probably sufficient. For an older child, inform them that that most of the slaves (70%) in the world are forced laborers. Do your research! When you feel they are ready to discuss sex slavery, tell them that most 46% of slaves in the US are enslaved in forced prostitution. Make sure they understand that forced labor and domestic labor is not free of sexual abuse, but often encompasses it.
Don’t skip the conversation about traffickers. For every person sold, there is someone willing to sell them. We need to protect our children not only from becoming slaves and victims but from becoming traffickers and perpetrators. Explain that traffickers care more for money than they do for people, and that it is a sad thing for a person to care so much for money. Greed can be its own form of slavery.
Give hope as well as a little fear to your children. A fear of trafficking and exploitation is a healthy one that your children should have, but don’t only talk about the problem. Explain that legislation now exists that illegalizes slavery everywhere in the world (and that is progress!) and that there are many men and women who give their whole lives to fight this problem. Involve them in the solution. If you raise your kids in a faith, pray with your kids about this issue. If they are old enough to want to take action, give them resources! Help them talk to their teachers or school staff about holding a fundraiser or a school education program for modern day slavery. Look up anti-trafficking organizations together, local or international. Listen to their ideas and encourage their motivation to free the slaves.
More important than how you talk to your kids about this is that you do. The first step to prevention is awareness, and that cannot happen without discussion.