I have the honor of working for a nonprofit here in Dallas called Treasured Vessels Foundation. Our focus is to build homes for adolescent girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking domestically so they can receive the long-term residential care and treatment they need to be healed and become healthy again. But honestly, I wish my job never existed because that means there is a need for what we do.
I think there are many misconceptions around what trafficking is and what it looks like. We can imagine that it’s just an international problem, or it is just a problem for certain demographics but all of those thoughts are incorrect.
Did you know that there are 400 kids at risk of being trafficked in Dallas each night? This isn’t a problem just in Dallas but it’s happening all over the country.
When we hear that we imagine these kids walking the street but honestly this is happening in plain sight! We have learned that these kids who are being trafficked aren’t always from the inner city, aren’t always on drugs, aren’t always runaways…they look like my kids and yours.
How on earth do kids end up being trafficked? Are they kidnapped? Drugged? Sometimes, yes, but most of the time the answer is no. What we have seen is that these traffickers don’t have to hurt the child physically, they will actually brainwash them into believing this trafficker is meeting a need they have and loves them. Once the child believes the lie it becomes easier for the trafficker to ask them to do things like, having sex with strangers for money because that’s what they need them to do to “prove” they love them.
These are disgusting truths that we never anticipated needing to know when we had a child and I don’t share these things to breed fear, I share them to raise awareness. Not every child who is being trafficked will be kidnapped, some of these kids come home every night but they are being lied to, manipulated or blackmailed by a trafficker. So, what can we do as parents to help prevent this from happening to our kids?
Prevention Tips for Parents
- Be aware of the social media apps your kids are using. This is a HUGE gateway. Many traffickers will pose as a younger person and begin a “friendship” with the child. This trafficker will tell them all the right things then begin to ask for things like a topless picture, then another and another. If the child doesn’t want to participate anymore often times the trafficker will use those pictures as blackmail.
- Be aware of who their friends are. Are they hanging around an “older” crowd? A girl was hanging out with an older girl who encouraged her to skip school with her one day. Once they got into this older girl’s boyfriend’s car she was handed a coke– that was drugged — and she woke up in a hotel where she had been raped and was then trafficked. So ask questions..lots of them, meet parents, be THAT parent.
- Have the difficult conversations about them being sexually active. Many of these kids are led to believe that sex=love and if they “loved” their trafficker they would have sex not just with them but anyone else who they tell them to.
- Be aware of unexpected money or gifts. Does your child have new, sometimes expensive items? These gifts can be used as bribes from their trafficker.
- Be aware of any unexpected bruising or injuries. Almost 100% of the time traffickers will become or threaten to become physically violent. Bruises on the arms, legs, around the neck, or face need to questioned.
- Be aware of any attempts to look older by the way they dress or the makeup they wear. These girls are encouraged and sometimes demanded to look older so they can lie about their age.
- Take notice if your child is unwilling to talk about something or if they become withdrawn, quieter, or if there is a dramatic change in their behavior (more so than the average teenager).
- Listen to the kinds of conversations they are having. Do you hear them talk about going to places that are not age-appropriate like the club or the bar?
- If your child runs away more than two times, there is a reason for it. There is something happening outside of the home and I hate to say it, or inside of the home. Create a safe environment and opportunity for your child to be honest with you about anything that may be happening and then get the necessary help they need.
What do you do if you think either your child or someone you know is being trafficked? You can call the National Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 or 911. You can also submit Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) through www.iwatchtx.org. This goes to the Texas DPS Joint Crime Information Center and can be sent to the best agency to handle the information. The kids who are rescued not only need to be protected by law enforcement they will also need psychological treatment.
If your child has been trafficked, the good news is that they can heal and recover. It will take time and may be a long road to recovery but they are resilient and capable of healing and becoming everything they were created to be.