by Meghan Zuraw, North Texas Outreach Manager, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children – Texas Regional Office
It was always the same message, and it was sent to more than 800 girls on social media, most often to those posting about fights with their parents or feeling isolated at school. “You’re pretty,” the message said. “You could make some money.” Many were intrigued, including a 17-year-old Fairfax County, Virginia girl, who responded and arranged a meeting. She soon found herself trapped in a car with members of a violent gang operating in the affluent suburbs. One of the men pulled her out of the car and raped her. When she resisted, he cut her with a knife. He then took her to an apartment building, where she was forced to have sex with more than a dozen men. When she was finally driven home early the next day, she was told if she said anything, they’d come back and kill her.
Sex traffickers lure vulnerable children using physical and psychological manipulation. These relationships often begin online before progressing to a real-life encounter. While any youth can be targeted by a pimp, runaways or children experiencing trouble at home are especially vulnerable. Traffickers know these children have needs that are not being met and use this to their advantage. Often they will create a seemingly loving relationship with their victims to establish trust and then use more violent tactics to maintain control so that victims feel trapped and powerless.
To better protect your child against predatory offenders:
- Create an environment in which he or she feels comfortable talking with you. Share the dangers of sex trafficking with your children and encourage them to alert you when they feel uncomfortable in any situation.
- Often trafficking victims have experienced victimization in the past, and many times this has been inflicted by individuals close to the victim. Do you trust the people with whom your child interacts? Knowing whom your children are with at all times is crucial to protecting their safety.
- When your daughter or son is online, do you know which sites they are visiting and with whom they are communicating? Taking the time to monitor what your children do and who they are interacting with on the Internet is a VERY important step in keeping your child safer.
- If something does not seem right, ask questions!
For more information, visit www.missingkids.org. If you suspect a case of child sex trafficking, contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or visit www.cybertipline.com. If you are interested in child safety presentations for your organization or school, contact us at [email protected].