Thanks in part to the widespread use of connective technology, it seems that almost daily we run across a viral Facebook post detailing an attempted kidnapping in a public place or news coverage of a young teenager’s disappearance in which human trafficking is cited as a possible explanation. While most of us would agree that increased awareness is a good thing, parents of young kids and teens may struggle with feelings of fear and helplessness as a result of this cascade of information.
History teaches that the practice of capturing and exploiting people for forced labor, sexual slavery, or other human rights violations (collectively known as human trafficking) is nothing new. What’s new to most Americans is the realization that human trafficking has been happening right under our noses for years, and that many of our “runaways” or unexplained disappearances may have a much more sinister explanation.
Unfortunately, hard facts about human trafficking are tough to find. Many victims are not visible to the general public, aren’t recognized even when they’re seen, or had already “slipped through the cracks” of the system before they were exploited. They may also feel trapped in human trafficking schemes by their fear of the perpetrators, distrust of law enforcement, or a perception that they have consented to their involvement. These issues make it difficult to collect accurate statistics on just how many places and people are affected, even for agencies whose sole purpose is to study human trafficking.
So what does that mean for concerned parents? While the reality of human trafficking can be overwhelming, the OffenderWatch Initiative believes that knowledge is power. Parents who are educated can share what they learn with their kids, who can then use that information to protect themselves. With that mission in mind, consider what simple tips and habits you can teach your kids to keep them safe from not just human trafficking, but many threats to their safety:
- In the community – Situational awareness is key. Help kids learn to observe their surroundings, to evaluate people’s actions rather than their appearance, and to seek out “safe strangers” if they feel unsafe. Help young children to understand why it’s important to stay close to a trusted adult, and encourage older kids and teens to use a buddy system wherever possible.
- Online – General internet safety rules cover a number of potential threats, including the possibility of being lured into a human trafficking operation. Review ways to protect your kids’ location and privacy wherever they go online (including social media), and emphasize the danger of giving identifying information to or arranging meetings with online contacts.
- When in trouble – Many authorities, including the U.S. Department of Health and Hospitals, indicate that at-risk kids are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers. This includes runaways and children who have been in difficult home circumstances. Parents should discuss with their kids specific safe places to go or trusted people to contact in the event they ever become separated from their usual support network.
- When close to home – Sign up for parent notifications from the OffenderWatch Initiative to receive important safety alerts for your area—including the location of registered sex offenders nearby. If your child’s school does not participate in T.A.S.K. (Teaching Awareness to School Kids), find out whom you can contact to bring this educational opportunity to your district. Also, be sure to visit http://offenderwatchinitiative.org/ regularly to find valuable and dynamic information on how to protect your family and empower your kids to guard their own safety.