Learning about the realities and prevalence of teenagers and sex trafficking can frighten and unsettle any parent. The first question that usually comes to mind is, “What can I do to protect my teenager?” The most important thing you can do is to build a good relationship with your teenagers and maintain strong communication. Let them know that they can talk to you about anything, even if it’s difficult.
Sex traffickers target boys and girls from all backgrounds and neighborhoods. Adult predators as well as other teenagers can lure teenagers into the sex industry. So, it’s a good idea to start the conversation and discuss relationships openly. Make sure you know your teen’s friends, boyfriends and girlfriends. It’s also important to know your teenager’s Internet, texting and call history.
Preventing Sex Trafficking
You can steer your teenagers away from bad relationships by keeping them busy (but not overwhelmed) in activities and sports they enjoy. Developing new skills helps teenagers build self-esteem, making them less vulnerable to manipulation by predators.
Spending time with your teenager, even if they seem uninterested, and being present when they do need you are the best gifts you can give them. Scheduling time to be together, during family meals, for example, is extremely important. Time in the car can also be very valuable.
Help your teenager make sense of things they are exposed to through television, music and video games, which may mirror the culture of prostitution. Expose your teen to male and female role models who treat each other with respect, and talk to your teen about sexual violence.
The number one sex trafficking prevention tool is a healthy relationship between you and your teenager. You’ve already invested your love; now, make sure to invest your time, attention and guidance.
So how do you start the conversation about sex trafficking with your teenagers?
1) Start by saying, “If anyone ever has or anyone ever does hurt you, you can talk to me.”
This is the most important thing you can say. Don’t assume they have not been hurt by sexual violence before. Leave the door open for your teen to talk about past circumstances that they haven’t shared with you. Teenagers can be coerced or forced to have sex by someone they know, trust and, possibly, love. So don’t say, “If anyone ever hurts you, I’m going to _________ them.” Your teen may be concerned about the other person getting in trouble or even worried about you getting in trouble if you harm someone else.
2) Spark a conversation in the car.
The car creates uninterrupted time when you can both be attentive. Discuss ways teenagers are targeted for sex trafficking. Give teen the facts about sex, sexual coercion and assault before they get misinformation from peers. Remember, teens crave factual information about sex from someone they trust. Don’t make it a joke. Rape is never funny. Sexual violence is a serious issue and should be handled that way. If you approach it as a joke, your teen will too.
3) Use a book to start the conversation about teenagers and sex trafficking.
One example is Theresa Flores’ story, The Slave Across the Street: The True Story of How an American Teen Survived the World of Human Trafficking. Theresa was 15 years old and living with her parents in an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit when she was enslaved into sex trafficking. Flores lived a terrifying double-life for two years and, now, decades later, she has dedicated her life to preventing this horrific crime. It can happen to anyone, anywhere.
4) Use media stories about sex trafficking to start the conversation.
“What do you think about the case in the news? What’re you hearing at school about this? What do you think about it?” It is easier for teenagers to open up about what other people think first. Then, you can share your message: “If anyone has ever or anyone ever does hurt you, you can talk to me.”