Have you seen the viral posts about the latest hotspot for human sex trafficking? Highlighting where traffickers go to scope out their prey? Or the warning about the traffickers waiting to abduct your teenager at the mall? Did you see the one about the store, where if you take your eyes off your shopping cart for just a second, your toddler will be snatched and sold on the black market? Or the stats about the city ranked highest for trafficking, where you’d never want to relocate your family?
During ten years as an FBI Special Agent and in the year and half since I’ve come to RAHAB, I’ve had conversations with parents who tell me about fear that changes how they live their lives. Fear prompted by misinformation that is repeated until it’s accepted as fact. Fear that takes people captive, impacting where they live, shop and allow their children to go.
This fear, as fear so often is, is based on false perception. Evil’s primary weapon is deception. This same weapon that traffickers wield to enslave their victims can take whole cultures captive.
Truth has been taken off track in much of the narrative surrounding the slavery of human trafficking. Misinformation can be spread with the best of intentions.
Myths distract from the real threats, causing our kids to become more vulnerable and diverting limited resources from response to the real thing.
We need to counteract lies with Truth. Truth and Love will bring freedom and win the war against evil.
There is Truth in those myths that are so often purported as fact:
It’s True that there are places traffickers frequent to target their prey.
It’s True that your child could be ensnared in a trafficker’s net and disappear.
It’s True that traffickers will snatch a child from right under your nose.
It’s even True that nefarious activity takes place on the black market.
But the often viral messages about where and how all this happens are false.
Hotspots exist. But they’re not the ones most frequently purported.
In a decade of investigating human trafficking and crimes against children matters, not once did I see an instance where a stranger abducted someone from the street or a shopping cart and sold them for sex. There was always grooming—there was always a lie…or lies…that came first. Not once did the tips based on viral social media posts pan out. Not once did the missing child cases look like the narrative in the movies or in the supposed first-hand account someone posted online. Not once.
Traffickers’ bonds are both stronger and more subtly formed than the myths perpetuated.
The Truth is that the most dangerous place for your child to be is in a private physical location with access to the internet. Often, that place is in our homes. It’s in our children’s bedrooms. It’s the one place where we think we can let our guard down. Within our own walls.
The internet, the latest social media, the latest app, and the networked games are hotspots for traffickers. Wherever kids congregate online, that is a place where predators pursue them.
Predators prey on vulnerabilities. Kids share their vulnerabilities on social media. Are they mad at their parents? Disillusioned? Feeling isolated and alone? Wish they had cash? Want to feel loved?
Traffickers don’t need to go to the mall to target our kids. They can shop for a child online, just by looking at social media profiles and posts.
Are traffickers on the street and at the mall? Yes, and as our Director of National Impact Alicia Ley recently pointed out on a RAHAB Podcast, people who are trafficked are shopping in those places too. And if we don’t understand what trafficking really looks like, we will miss it. Our children will be lured, gradually, methodically—snatched from their bedrooms, so to speak, from right under our noses.
Whether it’s another student sitting at your child’s lunch table or a decades older man posing as a peer on social media, traffickers target those with vulnerabilities and establish a bond by offering a false version of love. The bonds grow so gradually, and the relationship degrades to coercion so strategically, that the one being trafficked doesn’t realize she or he has any choices at all. Unlike a stranger abduction from the street, typically no one knows to call 911 in these circumstances.
Both the inoculation against trafficking and the antidote for those who have been sucked into the life are the same. It’s the real thing instead of a counterfeit. It’s for our children to know the Truth of their value. It’s for them to experience real Love, so they aren’t susceptible to the traffickers’ false version. That is what RAHAB offers in all of our programming from street outreach to mentoring and safe housing—real relationships. We speak the Truth of their value to those we serve. We offer real Love and ask for nothing in return.
This blog aims to share Truth and Love. Truth to change the conversation about trafficking–to help parents, service providers and policy makers make good decisions based on real facts and critical thinking. And Love, stories of hope, restoration, transformation and redemption.
Ultimately, we aim to bring freedom.