By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice
Now that summer is here, parents should remain aware of the dangers that exist when unsupervised children and teenagers enjoy their summer break. One particular threat that exists is sex trafficking, especially for children and teenagers who have unrestricted access to social media and the internet.
Sex traffickers commonly use online sites and the internet to “groom” their potential victims. These criminals lurk in places such as social media platforms, online gaming sites and chat rooms to target children.
Sex traffickers are highly practiced at seeking out and exploiting a victim’s vulnerabilities, which includes children who are online without close parental supervision. Such children are at an increased risk over the summer when parents may be at work during the day and their children are on the internet.
How Sex Traffickers Use Online Sites to Lure Victims
To lure their victims, sex traffickers create fake social media profiles so that they appear as children to their victims. They may also seek out children on the internet and try to befriend them, often saying they are interested in their victims or care about them. Sex traffickers especially target the children who don’t have proper security settings on their social media sites.
It is all too easy for a sex trafficker to harvest information about a potential victim. For instance, the sex trafficker can see a child’s text messages, photos, and videos to learn about the child’s character, who the child’s friends are, and what the child enjoys doing. The trafficker can then exploit this information when he or she approaches a victim.
Once a sex trafficker finds a target, he or she can be very convincing. A sex trafficker will act kind and use whatever information is available to manipulate the child into believing that the trafficker wants to be helpful.
The goal of the trafficker is to lure the child to a face-to-face meeting, which places the child in extreme danger. Sex traffickers may buy the child a bus ticket or a ticket using some other form of transportation. But once the victim is with the trafficker, the trafficker typically takes the victim’s phone, money or anything else that could be used to escape the trafficker.
Sex Trafficking Is Common in All US States
There are hundreds of thousands of human trafficking victims in the United States, and human trafficking occurs in all 50 states. The most common form of human trafficking is sex trafficking.
According to the Guardian Group, the average age when a child becomes a sex trafficking victim is 15 years old for girls and even younger for boys. The Guardian Group also notes that 150,000 new escort ads are posted on the internet each day; these ads reference children who are bought and sold for sex trafficking.
Shopping Malls Are a Frequent Resource for Sex Traffickers
Sex traffickers also utilize shopping malls for victim recruitment. They may approach children and teenagers and offer false modeling opportunities as part of the grooming process. In some cases, traffickers use teenage peers to lure unsuspecting victims to the sex trafficker.
Parents Need to Stay Vigilant throughout the Year
All year round – but especially during the summer break when many kids are unsupervised – parents should be aware of the dangers of sex trafficking and take steps to protect children. Close adult supervision is a useful way to combat the risk of sex trafficking.
Ideally, parents should ensure that the highest privacy settings are used on their child’s social media accounts. They should also regularly monitor their children’s online content for indicators that a new connection may be targeting them.