January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the United States. It was followed by Superbowl weekend. The largest sporting event in our country, possibly the world, is also a lucrative weekend for criminals who exploit children for profit….you may have heard it called CSEC (commercial sexual exploitation of children) or DMST (Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking) is a $9.8 billion (that's billion) industry in the United States, and wherever a large sporting event is taking place, you can be sure that demand is high.
In the weeks preceding the Superbowl, the FBI arrested 45 traffickers and saved 16 children in the New York area. That was likely a drop in the bucket, but at least 16 children are now safe. Our children, American citizens, are being lured into a life of sex slavery at an alarming rate; it's happening right under our noses, often at the very hotels where we stay for business or vacation.
These are not children in third world countries who are sold by their parents in order to put food on the family table, these are our sons and daughters, who for myriad reasons are unhappy at home, and because of that they become easy prey for the traffickers who lure them, groom them and ultimately hold them hostage as sex slaves, working them night and day, often for years, and then throwing them away like garbage when they've outlived their usefulness. A dealer can sell a drug one time, a trafficker can sell a child again, and again, and again.
Two factors that are consistently found in victims of DMST are previous sexual abuse (almost all trafficking victims report being sexually abused at a younger age) and running away from home (1 in 3 runaways are lured into the sex trade within 48 hours of leaving home). For more information about CSEC view this infographic from Shared Hope International.
Many children are lured by traffickers online via social media. Ironically, that is also the way that many of them are "sold" as well. Factors that make children easy targets online are their propensity to publicly display their personal lives on their social media sites, their belief that it's "safe" to converse online with strangers, and their perception that more friends/followers on their sites means they are looked upon as more popular by their peers. If a teen's social life seems to be primarily online vs. interacting directly with friends, that should be a red flag for parents.
We need a collective movement to end this tragedy. It starts with cutting off the supply. If more people were outraged, if more people were writing to their congressmen, if more people were educating themselves about the problem and freely talking about it, the seeds of change would be planted. Don't fool yourselves into thinking that this is someone else's problem; the numbers speak for themselves. It's big business, second only to drugs in terms of illegal industries worldwide. The buyers are not low life trash, they are primarily middle aged suburban men with disposable income. Make no mistake, tens of thousands of your neighbors, your co-workers, and the "family men" who sit next to you in church on Sunday morning are secretly buying sex with children.
Action steps? Several things you can do immediately and with little effort: