*Trigger Warning: This article will discuss a child’s experience with sex trafficking. This may be triggering for some readers.
HuffPost reports that, “1.2 million children are sex trafficked every year.” And according to The Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC), 41 percent of children are recruited into trafficking by a family member/relative or friend they know . . . and TRUST!
In the book Made in the U.S.A.: The Sex Trafficking of America's Children by Alisa Jordheim, the author tells the story of a seven-year-old girl that was sent to Oregon for the summer to spend time with her grandmother. Her aunt and her aunt’s new husband, along with their seven-year-old son and the girl’s cousin, all lived in the same house. She knew them all, loved her grandma, aunt, and cousin, and trusted everyone there, including the new husband, “Uncle George.”
That summer, while everyone was sleeping, her Uncle George raped her repeatedly and took nude photos of her, posting them on various child pornography websites. Eventually, the uncle brought in her seven-year-old cousin and forced him to have sex with her so that the uncle could take more pictures and post them online. The boy was told that he was the girl’s master and that she would be addressed as a “slave” from that moment on.
As the summer progressed, the uncle took the children to various rodeos. The girl was forced to have sex with numerous men every day, men she described as wearing suits, rodeo clothes, even police uniforms. She was scratched, bitten, burned, choked, stabbed, and beaten. She stopped eating and hid her brutalized body and shame under oversized sweaters.
One day, she was coerced to find another girl to help take some of the “burden of work” off her. She made a friend at the rodeo and convinced the girl and her mother to allow her to join them as they visited some of the other rodeos nearby. The mother of the new girl TRUSTED her daughter’s new friend, her cousin, and her “charming” uncle, so off they went.
You can only imagine what happened next.
“The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.”
—Needful Things, by Stephen King
Like me, your first thought might be, “Why didn’t the child scream or run? Why didn’t the child reach out to an adult for help the second she could have?” These are good questions. But there are many reasons why children don’t say anything. They are threatened and shamed. They are told things like, “You’re a dirty little slut now. You better keep your mouth shut or you’ll be thrown out of the house,” or “You better not tell anyone or I’ll kill you and your mom and dad.” Predators are master manipulators. They will say anything to maintain power and control over their victims.
As children, we’re taught to trust our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, coaches . . . the list goes on and on. But according to the reports, 41 percent of children are sex trafficked by a family member, so what do we do? How do we navigate this without having to completely isolate children from family and friends? How do you move through life without living in constant fear and avoid raising your child in a state of paranoia?
One of the things traffickers look for is vulnerabilities like a young and helpless child with low self-esteem, without many friends, who is on the shy side. It’s essential to create a safe environment for children to have conversations about speaking openly about a “trusted” family member.
“Skepticism is the highest duty and blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”
We have to give our children a voice and the strength to say no! But most importantly, we must raise our awareness of this unsettling reality. Look for clues such as a relative who separates your child from the rest of the group. For example, “Let’s run to the store to get ice cream for everyone,” or sleeping arrangements where you’re not around. These can be ideal situations for a predator and thus a trafficking situation.
A child who begins to “act out” at home or in school is indicating that something is not right. Not eating, despondency, self-harm, and using drugs and/or alcohol to numb their emotions are all signs for which to watch out.
This is not an easy topic, but it must be shared to start asking questions, raise awareness, and allow ourselves to be skeptical and discerning when it comes to those who spend time with our children.
As the CEO of Lotus Rising International, I’m passionate about ending child trafficking. All children should be free, safe, happy, and thriving. Our 4th Annual Virtual Fundraiser is just around the corner. We go live on social media platforms for a full 24 hours to raise funds and awareness on topics like this to end child sex trafficking. I hope you will join us to enjoy some great entertainment, listen to survivors, and donate to help us on our mission so that we can keep asking these critical questions.
If you suspect you or a friend are at risk of trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-3737-888 or text “BeFree” (233733).