Talking to Teens About Trafficking

Trafficking can be a difficult topic to discuss with the young people in your life, or a topic that we do not think to discuss. However, the average age of entry into the sex trade is 15 years old, with one in six being under the age of 12 years old, it is an important conversation to have (source). How traffickers lure their victims is a helpful aspect of this crime for you as the caregiver to understand prior to discussing this topic.

Before you dive into this type of conversation it is important to remember that a teenage brain has not reached full development. Their prefrontal cortex, the portion of the brain responsible for decision making and logic is the last piece to develop. Until this happens most of their decision making comes from their amygdala, the portion of the brain responsible for impulse and emotion. Keep this in mind as you navigate these conversations.

Traffickers Recruitment Tactics –

Each trafficker has their own unique style of exploitation and methods of maintaining control over their victims. We cannot unpack every potential scenario, however, understanding the patterns and trends associated with this type of predator can help protect your young person. Traffickers generally fall into one of three categories or a combination of them:

Gorilla Pimp – this predator uses violence, threats, and fear to lure and maintain control over their victims. They may use drugs as a means of control as well.

Looking for: they are looking for teens without supervision either at a party or places teens hangout or even online.

Watch for: as a caregiver you need to watch for older men hanging out with teen girls or very friendly females that are always inviting teens to a party or to join them for other exciting activities.

CEO Pimp – this predator uses the lure of a job or promise of significant money. These jobs may be modeling related, selling a product door-to-door, or in the music industry.

Looking for: they are looking for young people that are aspiring models, musicians or those that are in need of money.

Watch for: someone promising stardom or acting like an agent but being very pushy. They may start to request inappropriate photos.

Romeo Pimp – This predator uses love, romance, charm, and flattery to lure and maintain control over his victims. They prey on the desire of most young girls for love and acceptance.

Looking for: young naïve teens with lower self-esteem or those that are actively searching for love.

Watch for: men who fall in love fast or those that encourage teens to run away. They may promise them a better life.

There are two main places predators use to recruit their victims, in-person at places young people hang out or online. If a predator is searching for victims in-person, they are likely looking for a vulnerability they can exploit. For example, a trafficker may approach a group of young girls and tell them they are beautiful. The girl that shrinks, blushes, or diverts her eyes to the ground comes across as someone he will have better luck breaking. Verses the girl that responds with a confident, “thanks” while maintaining good eye contact. They may also be looking for signs of homelessness or runaway status.

If a predator is hunting for victims online, they are looking for this same type of vulnerability or a method to connect based on what the young person is posting. Posts that describe how much they dislike a parent or school creates a window for a predator to solve a problem or connect on an emotional level. This may look like this…  “School was awful for me too, I dropped out, you don’t need school, I’ll take care of you.” Traffickers may also send out hundreds of direct messages with flattering comments or requests for help, just hoping to get a handful to respond.

Some predators use what is referred to as the Bottom in their lure techniques. The Bottom is often the girl the trafficker trusts the most and is commonly used to help recruit other girls. Naturally, young girls trust women more than they do a strange man. Meaning that an invite to a party or an online message from other women may be more successful than one from a male trafficker.

Foundational Conversations for Children

Talking about trafficking with your teen will be easier if you have laid a good foundation with them as a child. Starting with conversations around language, touch, secrets, and strangers.

Language – Teaching our children the proper terms for their body parts gives them the tools to tell an adult if something happens in a way that is productive. Combining this conversation with what is considered a private part and the meaning behind that is also key.

Touch – Generally this topic focuses on safe touch and unsafe touch, however, a third is also beneficial, unwanted touch. Not forcing children to give hugs or kisses to adults if it makes them feel uncomfortable is an important aspect of fostering their gut instinct and allows them to voice their “no” or “no, thank you” response. This is worth teaching regardless of the potential for a disappointed relative.

Secrets – the more we can teach that something is something to be kept private or something is a surprise the better. However, secrets are generally unavoidable. Giving our children permission to break a secret is vital in allowing them to protect themselves.

Strangers – The popular teaching around strangers focuses on Stranger Danger and this concept, while catchy, really focuses on the appearance of someone verses their intentions. Switching the teaching to focus on threatening situations will payoff for a young person in the long run. If a young person is only taught to identify strangers based on looks when she is a teen, and an attractive older guy is messaging her online she may feel safe responding because he is cute.

These conversations do not need to be long, elaborate sit-down conversations but instead can easily been brought into their everyday play. You can also use books to help facilitate these conversations or resources from KidSmartz.

Remember it is never too late to start talking about these things with the young people in your life.

Tips for Conversations with Teens

Teens get their information from three places if they are not getting it from you, the internet, other teens, and predators. Once the foundational conversations have been had then there are four areas to focus on with teens, the definition of trafficking, their gut instinct, online safety and healthy relationships.

Definition – this can be very simple “anything of value (purse, cash, a ride) in exchange for a sex act.”

Gut Instinct – encouraging your teen to listen to their gut instinct and fostering that instinct while they are growing up will help them protect themselves in the future. Here are five ways to do this:

  1. Give them permission to be impolite if they are uncomfortable.
  2. Allow them to say “no” to touch then consider unwanted.
  3. Teach them to respect adults that are responsible for them but giving them permission to not listen to add adults if they feel unsafe.
  4. Putting some of the responsibility of their safety on them. Teaching them you will do what you can to keep them safe but will not always be around and they must look out for themselves as well.
  5. Believe what they tell you.

Online Safety – this element can be overwhelming as the dangers that exist online change rapidly along with platforms. Providing an outlet for them to express their feelings and explaining the dangers of doing that online will go along way.

Check out this Online Safety Checklist which is designed to give you as a caregiver a start point for proactively protecting your young person. NetSmartz has a wealth of resources for teaching these online dangers for all age demographics.

If your teen has sent an image that should not exist on the internet the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a program to help you remove the image.

Healthy Relationships – do not assume that your teen knows what healthy relationships should look like or what acceptable dating behavior is. Make sure you are modeling this if possible and having conversations about this with them. Teaching them how to act in a relationship and how they should be treated can go a long way in protecting them from trafficking as well as teen dating violence.

Talking with teens can be tricky, so normalizing this type of conversation with them as much as possible will remove some of the discomfort over time. Approaching the conversation with the intent that they protect their friends may also be helpful in how they receive this information.

Take a deeper dive into this information by watching this training recording and the follow-up resources.

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