Teens & Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is an industry that has seemingly no boundaries. Selling, abusing, and moving people against their will is a heartless vocation that intentionally targets and takes advantage of the most vulnerable humans. It might be easier to conceptualize this in regard to others; people across the globe who are far more likely to be wrapped up in this world of terror. The problem with this is that trafficking truly happens everywhere, and in terms of the most vulnerable, kids and teenagers are incredibly easy targets.
Youth are automatically one of the most defenseless groups in society simply due to their age, but those with a history of abuse, or who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, and lack good role models can easily fall victim to the manipulative life of human trafficking. While it can be slightly more comforting to think of trafficking victims, specifically in sex trafficking, as adults, in America the average age of a person trafficked is 12- to 13-years-old. We’ve talked about the many resources available survivors, but it is also important to think about prevention. Along with decreasing demand and fighting for tougher laws against human trafficking, we can work to help decrease the supply as well. By empowering our youth so that they realize their value, we can raise independent teenagers who can dodge the cunning call of human trafficking.
The most common narrative in regards to at-risk youth being roped into the industry is one filled with manipulation. When someone’s home, school and/or social life is filled with instability, having a friend or significant other who seems to genuinely care about how you are doing is huge. It can finally feel like there’s something constant and reliable in life. Oftentimes, pimps will act as a safe place for teens to share their thoughts, feelings and emotions. In such a transitional time between childhood and adulthood, someone who takes the time to listen can be incredibly influential.
The unfortunate side of this is whether in person or through online interactions, the truth eventually comes out. Soon the loving and caring “boyfriend” who was able to offer food, shelter and a shoulder to cry on is asking for sexual pictures, acts and services for him or his friends. He knows how to guilt the victim into performing, using all of the insecurities that was previously shared in confidence. Often, this is the point when the individual being trafficked realizes the extent of the mistake they’ve made in trusting him, but it’s seemingly too late for them to get away.
We need to make sure that teens are informed of what healthy relationships look like, including online interactions. Because of the rapid increase in accessibility of the internet and cameras, the need for internet safety lessons is essential. There is even a campaign now against “sextortion.” This is the “threat to reveal intimate images to get you to do something you don’t want to do.” This campaign is a part of Thorn, a non-profit that focuses on technology’s role in child sexual abuse cases founded by Ashton Kutcher. Along with resources to help evade sextortion, you can text ‘THORN’ to 741741 to immediately communicate with a trained counselor if you are ever in a crisis. Thorn’s website is also easy to read and understand, making it a great resource for people of all ages who are ready to learn more.
The internet makes it possible to communicate with teens from anywhere 24/7, so even if a pimp is miles away they are constantly able to access and influence their targets. To help prevent teens and youth from being easily persuaded by people with unfavorable intentions, they need to be aware of mentoring options with a more reliable foundation. Programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Mentor help connect youth to adults who are able to build a relationship with them and support them as they learn what interests them and start thinking about their future. These relationships allow stability and consistency in the teenager’s life in a healthy and nurturing way.
There are also tons of after-school programs that build community and are focused around different interests that teenagers might have. A great example of this is is STOKED which works “in the schools, conference rooms, on the slopes, at the skatepark and in between waves.” By mixing action sports, cultures and industries, STOKED serves youth from underserved communities focusing on motivation, inspiration and energy to help launch them on a path to a successful future. Not only do the teens get to skate, surf, and board while building healthy relationships, but they also focus on preparing for the future and staying motivated to fight for their future.
Finally, if you find yourself in desperate need for help there are emergency hotlines and text lines that you can access. The responders will be able to guide you to the resources that you need. Whether that means getting you a safe shelter, medical aid, advice on how to handle an abusive situation, legal aid or more, these responders are here to help and serve you, not judge you or criminalize you. Please reach out if you feel you are in need of assistance.
As saddening as it is that there is such a need for these resources to support our youth, it is encouraging to see how many programs and organizations are out there ready to show each kid and teenager how valuable they are. If you don’t have a kid or teen in your life but want to get involved, you can volunteer with the organizations or become a mentor so that you can help youth see their own potential.
Human trafficking hotline:
Text: HELP to BEFREE (233733)
About the Author
Ali Pollard is a winter gal at heart who loves trying new things and traveling to new places. When she's not finishing her homework or consuming absurd amounts of coffee, she loves skiing and playing the saxophone. Ali is hoping to turn her passion for human rights into a career as she studies the sociology of law, criminology, and deviance (yes, that's all one major!) and political science at the University of Minnesota.