January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and while this is not a topic any of us want to think about being a reality in our world, much less imagine discussing with our children, the sad truth is that sex (and human) trafficking, even among young children, does exist – with staggering numbers. And unfortunately, child abuse is a major component in the lives of many who go on to be recruited by traffickers.
As much as we might dread the thought of it, it’s never too early to have meaningful dialogues with young children and teens about the issue of child abuse and sex trafficking, an epidemic around the world – and in America. To help us gather the facts and get tips on how to talk to our kids about this difficult topic, we’ve turned to The Selah Way Foundation, the nation’s largest anti sex trafficking organization.
Let’s start with some numbers.
The media reports stories about sex trafficking sting operations involving minors every day. And the statistics are simply astounding:
• Sex trafficking is a $99 billion dollar industry
• 300,000 American children are at risk every year
• 1 in 10 children are sexually abused
• Two million children are sold each year through sex trafficking
• 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused
• 1 of 5 children receive online sexual solicitations
• Child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states and targets children from all races, socio-economic backgrounds and zip codes
• The average age of children running away and entering sex trafficking is 15-17
• Within 48 hours of leaving home, 1 out of 3 children are solicited for sex
Below are five tips for parents to use when beginning the dialogue with young children and teens about child abuse and sex trafficking prevention.
These tips have been excerpted from Selah Freedom’s Prevention Program.
Tip #1: Start the conversation
- For younger children, talk about safe vs. unsafe touch
- Encourage your child to use their voice
- Have your child identify their trust triangle (three safe adults they can talk to at any time)
- Explain the difference between secrets vs. surprises
- Talk about safe screens
- Create a safety plan on what they can do if they don’t feel safe
- If you suspect child abuse or trafficking, notify authorities immediately and keep our child safe by letting police handle it
- Ask your pre-teen, “what qualities do you want in a relationship?” “How would you know you are unsafe online or in a relationship?” “How would you respond to an unsafe conversation or person that made you feel uncomfortable?”
Tip #2: Communication
- Ask your child what they know about this topic and discuss the facts and myths.
- Identify safety measures that your family can put in place and role-play different scenarios.
- Don’t be afraid to add a bit of humor and assure your child that it is ok to have this conversation.
- Listen to your child speak without interrupting, judging or criticizing.
Tip #3: Education
- Check out these prevention resources and videos with your child for safety tips
- Give youth access to resources and safe contacts
- Stay in the loop with your child’s internet and/or phone activity and check out new apps as youth are using them
Tip #4: Stay Alert!
Again, child abuse and sexual are not things we want to ever imagine happening to our child or any loved one, but the sad reality is that it does happen even to the most unlikely of families. Spotting signs of sex abuse in your own children or another loved one early on can prove critical to preventing further emotional, physical and psychological damage. Here are some things to look for:
- Sexual knowledge and experience beyond their years
- Hyper-awareness of genital area, touching, discussing, etc. with themselves or other children/teens
- History of emotional, physical and sexual abuse in families
- Fear/hesitance of adult (s) or being alone with a particular person
Tip #5: Keep Up the Dialogue
It’s not “one and done” …. keep the conversation going with your kids each year as they are growing up and maturing, remembering that older children and college students are also at risk. Be sure to let your kids know that, any age, they can always come to you and have a safe conversation.
Like many things in parenting, communication and education are key. Don’t hesitate to gather your own resources on this important topic and do what you can to keep your own children, and others around you, safe.
For further resources and reading, explore the work of Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good. She is the co-founder of Selah Freedom and The Selah Way Foundation and author of a new book, Groomed, published by Harper Collins. Her book covers important topics that will help you protect the next generation from being groomed and held captive by secrets.
About The Selah Way Foundation and Selah Freedom:
The Selah Way is a nonprofit arm of Selah Freeom – a national organization with the mission to end sex trafficking and bring freedom to the exploited through four strong programs: Advocacy & Awareness, Prevention, Outreach and Residential. Selah is a Hebrew word which means to pause, rest, and reflect. We give survivors a chance to do just that. Women in our programs have an opportunity to dream again; to discover who it is they were created to be. In 2010, Selah Freedom’s founders, Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good, Laurie Swink and Misty Stinson, discovered the horrifying truth that local children were being bought and sold for sex right here in our own communities – American children! What began as the grassroots initiative of women from across the country to be a voice for the voiceless, has quickly transformed into a thriving organization that closely partners with law enforcement, legislators, and influential leaders to not only shed light on the staggering statistics, but we are working together to change those statistics by changing lives!