I get images like this one in my social media feeds all the time. I look if I have seen the child then say a little prayer and then move on with my day not thinking twice about the face that I saw earlier and what that child may be going through.
(No one knows what happened to this child she is still missing. I used this image as a current example.)
On March 10th the television show Hawaii Five-0 did and the episode that followed and investigation involving girls that were being sex trafficked and the episode touched on some of the horrors that these children face.
A lot of these girls aren’t rebellious runaways they are young people that are friended by strangers on social media or by adults in their life and then slowly dragged into a world that they were not expecting.
During the episode, the team was alerted by a nurse at an ER that saw a girl who was acting strange with a man who said he was her uncle. The pair ended up running before they were treated. The team discovered the girl was a teenager who was reported missing several months before. As they combed through her social media and emails they uncovered the path that this predator used to get the desperate for love young girl to trust him and once she was away from her family she was forced into prostitution. The team ended up finding the girls and prosecuting the predators.
The scene below is how I am sure every cop who has ever arrested one of these people wish they could do.
In the end, the girls were returned to their families. Some of the girls went to a home called Hoolanapua which actually exists in Hawaii to help trafficked girls overcome their torture and hopefully learn how to live again.
I went to the organization's website and was grieved by what I saw. Children, young girls who looked to be around 10 were some of the girls currently being helped at the facility. Hoolanapua isn’t the only organization out there helping these children. Actor Ashton Kutcher and his Ex-wife run an organization called Thorn digital defenders of children that create software to help fight human trafficking.
During a recent trip to Capitol Hill, this is part of what he told Congress.
"As part of my anti-trafficking work, I've met victims in Russia, I've met victims in India, I've met victims that have been trafficked from Mexico, victims from New York and New Jersey and all across our country. I've been on FBI raids where I've seen things that no person should ever see," Kutcher said. "I've seen video content of a child that's the same age as mine being raped by an American man that was a sex tourist in Cambodia. And this child was so conditioned by her environment that she thought she was engaging in play."
In major cities like Atlanta in all the hotel rooms, you will find information on where to call for help if you are being trafficked. It is an enormous problem with no easy solution and no foreseeable end. A technology changes the avenues predators change with it.
The “be careful online” campaigns are about as effective as the don’t take candy from a stranger was when you were 5. A teenager who is going through so many changes in their body and hormonally and just wants to feel pretty and wanted. These predators know what to tell kids to get them to trust them and do exactly what they want them to do. The dangers today aren’t like they were 20 years ago, a child can be befriended, groomed and exploited without even leaving their bedroom.
Kids who are 13 or 14 years old and have 3k or more followers on Instagram and they share intimate details of their life without even blinking an eye. Children are given unlimited access to tech without a parent aware of what they are doing online.
Teenagers think that the journey from showing a picture of your chest to sex trafficking is a long one and they are smart enough to stop before it got dangerous but that isn’t always true.
What can a parent of caregiver do to safeguard your children?
First off know the lingo. Kids are born knowing how to scroll through iPhones now parents can’t be afraid to take a class or watch a video on how to work the programs and the tech that their kids use.
Privacy is not a right. I know a bunch of people will disagree with this statement and that’s okay, but in my home, everyone knows everyone else’s log-in codes and passwords. We respect privacy and don’t check unless there is a just cause but computers, tablets, and phones can be checked at any time and if there are things found they are discussed and restrictions are handed out if need be.
Be aware of how kids can get things past you. If your child is looking at their phone constantly my bet is they aren’t playing Angry Birds, you need to figure out what they are doing and who they are going it with. I am friends with all my kids on every account they have.
Realize there are apps that show up on your kids iPhone like a camera or something benign but they are actually a front for secret email accounts. Programs like Snapchat are platforms where kids share photos and the evidence disappears within a day.
Be aware be smart and don’t be afraid to be a nosy parent. If your kids hate you from their bedrooms safe and sound then so be it.
This is a fight with no quick and simple answer. As technology changes so do the paths that predators take to befriend young people. Ashton Kutcher compared the fight to a game of 'Whack a mole". They stop them when they pop up but when one avenue is stopped three more open up.
What shows like Hawaii Five-0 did with this latest episode it brought awareness to a problem that most people can't even fathom really existing.
The first time my girls and I spotted a sign in an Atlanta hotel giving instructions on what to do if you are being trafficked we were shocked, we had no idea that the issue was that widespread. You hear about it is far off foreign lands but in your own backyard?
Consider giving your time talent and treasures to help organizations like Hoolanapua they are fighting a war for this next generation.
Tips to keep kids safe online
Organization mentioned on Hawaii Five-0