Sex Trafficking Prevention: Bekah’s Story
This was her second trip on an airplane alone. 14-year-old Bekah was heading to Seattle to visit her cousin. Just like the year before, Bekah’s stomach was starting to jump with anticipation. But she was feeling much more confident, having done this once already.
Redmond’s small airport made it easy for Bekah to navigate through security and into the waiting area next to her gate. In fact, she only had to turn one corner in order for her parents to be in sight again. The gate wasn’t too crowded, so she chose a seat in the middle of an empty row. She silently got out her book and started reading. A sudden movement coming towards her caused Bekah to look up abruptly. A shabbily dressed man with greasy hair and a short stubble was walking in her direction.
Bekah didn’t think much of it until, much to her surprise, the man chose to sit down in the seat right next to her, instead of any of the other open seats in the waiting area. Once he set down his backpack and got out a book, he looked Bekah directly in the eyes and stretched his lips into a saccharine smile. “Hi!” He greeted her. “How are you?”
Before Bekah had left for her trip she and her mom had taken several self-defense classes. During the class a speaker from Guardian Group had shared about human trafficking and predators. He had encouraged the young people in the crowd to be confident and look people in the eyes. This little tip, because it sent a small yet powerful message, had stuck with Bekah and instantly came rushing back to her.
Acting quickly, Bekah dug deep and mustered up all the courage her 14-year-old body had. She looked the strange man in the eyes and boldly answered all his questions, smiling pleasantly. She did her best to steady her voice and sound confident. After a short amount of time the man just got up and left, only to come back once after realizing he’d forgotten his book.
The man that approached Bekah may have been a trafficker, he may have been a kidnapper, or he may have had nothing but good intentions, we will never know. However, what we do know is that had Bekah not been taught how to speak and act with confidence her situation may have played out quite differently.
Traffickers look for vulnerabilities in young people. This may be something they try and detect when speaking to them in person, for example a trafficker may approach two girls and say “Wow, you are beautiful!” If one of the girls looks down, or shows signs of embarrassment, the trafficker knows he can break her. If her response if full of confidence; she says, “Thank You” and keeps walking, the trafficker most often believes she is not worth his time or effort, she will be much more difficult to break.
Other traffickers look for their victims online, through social media or gaming apps. They often will send out a hundred of messages at a time, simply looking for a handful of young people to respond back. These messages may be something like, “I’m having a terrible day, can I talk to you about it?” or they may provide compliments. Once they have made contact, they will start to build a relationship and attempt to gain the trust of the young person. If a young person is seeking love or worth because they are not getting that elsewhere they will often be drawn to these types of relationships.
Instilling confidence and raising the self-esteem of our young people is vital in preventing them from becoming a vulnerable target. Here are 3 easy ways to start to build confidence in the children under your care:
1. Give Appropriate Praise – children look to the authorities in their lives for worth and acceptance, when they accomplish something give them praise for it. If the fail at something praise them for trying and encourage them to try again.
2. Teach Reasonable Goal Setting – Encourage your child to dream big but also help them set goals that can be accomplished. If they are taught to set goals that are always unattainable this will foster feelings of failure verses being able to offer praise when milestones are reached.
3. Encourage Adventure and Independence – the more opportunities you can provide for a young person to try something new in a safe environment without the fear of failing the better. This will not only foster self-independence as they grow it will also build confidence as they approach new situations.
Confidence is not a behavior that can be learned overnight, Bekah did not learn everything about how to be confident in that 2-hour self-defense class. However, because her parents had taught her these things over time, she knew how to portray confidence when it became necessary and had been given the instruction on why that was vitally important in this type of situation.
Become a Guardian
Traffickers will continue to use their tactics on vulnerable youth as long as vulnerable youth exist. Guardian Group has a two-pronged approach to disrupting this crime. Our offensive team provides free intelligence support that enables resource-constrained Law Enforcement agencies in their pursuit, apprehension, prosecution and conviction of predators. While defensively we provide sector-specific training to communities across the US to recognize and respond to trafficking.
Bekah attended a free human trafficking prevention and self-defense seminar that may have played a key role in preventing her from becoming a victim. Putting this type of information into the hands of our young people and giving them permission to listen to their gut and respond accordingly is necessary in protecting them.
Today we invite you to join a community of people dedicated to supporting these two strategies. The Guardians are a group of people that have committed to providing sustainable, reliable funding to keep this fight going strong. Each Guardian gives at the level that is comfortable for them, whether it is $5 a month or $500, every penny means more lives impacted. Join today and start fighting with us.