By Ashley Lowe, Survivor Leader, Karana Rising and WePreventTrafficking.org Consultant
Being a survivor of human trafficking gets hard at times. I say this because people look at us like we are just statistics. I never really knew I was a survivor, and when I did find out, it took me a long time to digest it because I only found out years after the fact on my own. No one told me. When I was trafficked at 13 I got arrested and was charged with prostitution, despite being a child and a victim. I want to share a few things that I wish I’d known before I’d been trafficked:
I never received help, nor was I provided with services that would have helped me with the pain and sadness of my dad never being around. I was just tossed in a jail cell like a piece of garbage with no clue as to what was happening to me. Nobody ever really asked me if I was okay or if I needed help. I didn’t know how to ask, either. I started to think that I was the problem, and no one told me otherwise or did anything to prove me wrong.
So, it is vital that we ask kids that simple question: “Are you okay?” or, “Would you like to talk?” Just feeling someone cares is a monumental thing for children.
I didn’t even know what human trafficking was until I got older. I’d been in courts, sent to juvenile jail, and sent to out-of-state treatment programs for years before I finally realized that I was a survivor of sex trafficking. I think if I’d known the red flags, I might have not fallen for my trafficker’s lies.
You have to make sure you and your kids understand what trafficking is. What if your kid feels alone and someone reaches out online and gives them the attention that they feel they aren’t getting from their loved ones? There are certain things that traffickers say to prey on children’s vulnerabilities, traffickers are very good at making you feel like they genuinely care, that you mean the world to them. Kids should know what those warning signs are, so they can be aware of what manipulation and luring look like. That the stranger on the other side of that conversation doesn’t intend to fix all of your problems, no matter what they promise.
The average person isn’t aware that young girls and boys are getting exploited here in the US or worldwide. I will be the one to tell you that it happens every single day. It happens in small towns, big cities, to all races, genders, and people of all backgrounds. It happens to children as young as 8 and adults, too. Trafficking isn’t about geography, it’s about vulnerability.
Growing up, I was witness to a lot of unhealthy, toxic, and abusive relationships. This led to me making poor choices in my life, with what relationships I pursued, and what relationships I kept the company of. Many survivors come from such backgrounds and, with no real guide on what real love, real safety, real respect, real admiration, and real companionship look like, we struggle to separate the good from the bad, the healthy and unhealthy. Traffickers use this to their advantage, knowing that their actions are cloaked by ignorance and a desperate need for love.
I grew up in a home feeling unloved and alone. My trafficker exploited that, so I can tell you first-hand traffickers look for vulnerabilities, holes to worm their way in through. Things like low self-esteem, a negative self-image, lack of love or understanding at home, are all ways traffickers find their in. Once they find a vulnerability in their target they will use that to their advantage, offering to fill whatever need or hole their target has. This is exactly how they lure in their victims, with promises of love, safety, money, or raining down compliments, etc… whatever it takes to lure the victim into their arms.
I met my trafficker in real life but then I was sold online. With kids online like they are now, traffickers basically can talk to your kids with you down the hall making dinner. Trafficker’s resources are endless: video games, chat rooms, social media, forums, and more. Kids need to know how to stay safe, in a world where anyone can see and access them. We as parents have a duty to protect and inform our children.
Talk about good touch vs bad touch, the dos, and don’ts. Talk to your kids about healthy sexual boundaries, I’m serious. If you don’t, someone will and their intentions might not be so good. Show them what is safe or not and why they need to come to you if someone asks them for a photo or shows them one. If someone pressures them for sex and they aren’t ready, if someone does something that makes them uncomfortable or wants to do something behind closed doors that isn’t safe, or they aren’t comfortable with. Its important kids are informed not only about their bodies, but their rights as individuals.
I wish someone would have told me some of the things that I have mentioned here to you. It would have helped me, but it’s not too late for me to help a child like I was. Do not ever think that human trafficking wouldn’t happen to you or your family because it can. With the right prevention and education, you can help your children and others by educating yourself about the ongoing issues that we face with exploitation and human trafficking. Tell them not to talk to strangers. As I said earlier, coach them on what manipulation looks like, tell them how people prey on others, and about how some people try to manipulate others by threatening them, telling falsehoods such as nobody cares about you, I can help you, solve your problems. Supporting children plays a big part in their well-being, and safety, it could be something small, such as looking at a picture that they have drawn. Little things like showing your kids that you support them so that they don’t feel the need to seek love and approval elsewhere and end up in the wrong place. If you are not sure how to bring up human trafficking to your children there are plenty of resources that can help you and guide you on the topic, but it starts with you. Talk to your kids, be involved, and create a safe space where and when they need to talk about something. You’re the first person they come to.
Please feel free to read our curriculum and reach out if you have questions. Knowledge is empowerment. You can find our Free to Be curriculum here.