In Irving, Texas, a teenaged girl was drugged and held captive for three days while a fellow male classmate sold her to several men for sex in exchange for money and drugs. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated or abnormal event. The average age that a victim is sold for sex is 13 years old; sexual abuse tends to start much earlier.
When it comes to sex trafficking, knowledge is power. Knowledge of who traffickers target, the signs of a perpetrator, and overall how to stay safe. The power of the abuser lies in the ignorance of the victim. It is never too early to begin teaching your child how to protect themselves and get help in suspicious situations.
Children who are sexually abused are statistically more likely to end up in prostitution and sex trafficking. For this reason, teaching our kids to be safe should start early. When potty training, it is important to teach children the proper anatomical names for their private parts, otherwise an abuser could touch your child and call their body parts an innocent nickname; making it more difficult for an already young child to clearly communicate abuse. Body autonomy is another very important concept that should be taught as soon as a child is able to understand it; the idea that their body is their own and others must have their permission before touching them in any way. A key component of teaching anatomical terms and body autonomy is teaching that this includes family members; it is important to not force or guilt children to hug or kiss someone just because they are an adult, a family member, or in a seemingly safe role. If a child is not comfortable giving or receiving physical touch from someone, it is crucial that we affirm their decision and that we trust their instinct; doing so will give them the confidence they need to trust themselves in a situation where we might not be present. These are some of the earliest age appropriate concepts to lay a solid foundation of safety and victim prevention.
For young kids and upwards, it is important to clearly explain what sex is and under what conditions sex is meant to be shared. Explaining to your child that there are bad guys, who can actually often be female and in traditionally trustworthy positions is important; doing so does not take away their innocence but may be the exact thing that helps them keep it.
One topic that cannot be overlooked and cannot be given enough attention is how to be smart with smartphones and how to be safe online. Traffickers used to mainly find their victims at places where youth gather: parks, malls, afterschool programs, concerts, and the likes. Nowadays so much connecting and grooming by perpetrators happens online; if your child doesn’t know how to be safe online, they will absolutely be in danger. In future blog posts we will further explore the subject of online safety. In the meantime, many schools and police stations have pamphlets and other resources available on different parental locks and safety measures you can begin taking today to protect your young ones with electronics.