CULLMAN, Ala. – As part of its ongoing series during Human Trafficking Awareness Month, The Cullman Tribune talked with Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force Chairperson Kathy Wilson about keeping children safe.
Said Wilson, “What makes your child vulnerable to a predator? If your child seeks love and acceptance, if your child wants to fit in, if your child is insecure or if your child is lonely. Every teen, at some point, feels like this from time to time. Every child is vulnerable. Predators make it their business to find out a child’s hopes, dreams and hurts so they can exploit them.”
Business models for the exploitation of minors
The Polaris Project, in its landmark study “The Typology of Modern Slavery,” identified 25 “business models” used by traffickers, several of which rely heavily on the recruitment of underage victims, including:
- Escort services – In operations that deliver prostitutes to hotels or residences for “private parties,” 43% of the victims are minors.
- Outdoor solicitation – Exactly half (50%) of those being sent out to work on backstreets and truck stops as classic stereotypical “hookers” are minors.
- Residential – In brothels or private homes, 48% of the victims are minors. Specifically in private homes, children make up the majority of victims.
- Pornography – Minors account for 61% of victims of illicit pornography not created by formally organized production companies. In these cases, the traffickers are very often family members.
- Peddling and begging – In this type of labor trafficking involving sales of goods (often edible sweets) or solicitation of donations for supposedly charitable causes, an overwhelming 74% of victims are minors.
- Remote interactive sex acts – Just under half of the victims are underage in businesses that provide phone sex, text-based chatlines and online sexual shows.
Traffickers targeting child victims may still hang out around schools and parks, but they generally have become much more elaborate in their recruiting methods, relying heavily on internet-based contact with potential victims.
Wilson shared: “Online predators are looking to lure your child by what’s called ‘online grooming.’ This can take place quickly or over an extended period of time. Conversations online can appear very innocent but involve deep levels of deception.
“The predator will establish trust and then form a relationship. Predators do research on the child they are grooming. They are well informed on their likes, dislikes, family and friends. Remember: this is a business for them.
“Online gaming sites are frequented by predators, perhaps buying upgrades or offering them tips to get them to the next level of their game. Once trust has been established, an in-person meeting usually happens, or the predator may solicit photos of the victim in compromising ways. If the child doesn’t do as asked, the predator will then threaten to share the photos with family and friends. This is called ‘sexting.’
“They establish secrecy and trust, so this enables them to manipulate their victim.”
Know the warning signs that your child might be communicating with an online predator
- If they withdraw from family or friends
- If they download pornography
- If they change screens or turn off a computer when someone enters the room
- If they become secretive or obsessive about online security
- If they receive phone calls or gifts from people you do not know
- If they get upset when they cannot be online when they want to be
Said Wilson, “Any of these signs could indicate the presence of a problem, so if you think you suspect or see something, err on the side of caution. It might just save your child’s life.”
For children and youth
Kids, be very careful and let an adult know if someone you meet online:
- Seems to know when you’re online, always seems to show up in the same public chat rooms as you
- Wants to move to a private chat room
- Asks lots of questions
- Asks for personal information
- Seems to have personal information about you already
- Always agrees with you- someone who “just gets you”
- Constantly compliments you
- Seems too interested in you, too soon
- Wants to know all about what’s bothering you
- Tries to turn you against other people, tries to convince you that your family and friends don’t understand you or want what’s best for you
- Says things that just don’t add up- maybe a “teenager” who communicates more like an adult
- Offers you gifts
- Says things that make you uncomfortable
- Asks you to lie about anything
- Asks you to meet in person
- Threatens you in any way
If you suspect that a child may be the target of a predator, contact local law enforcement or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text 233733 (“BeFree”) or visit https://polarisproject.org.
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