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Samantha woke up in a pool of blood and reached back to feel the gash in her head. I’ve got to get out of here. He’s going to kill me.
Her thoughts drifted back to how differently Luke had treated her a year ago. He had been the epitome of a gentleman when they first met. He listened to her, showered gifts on her, and made her feel loved. Everyone told her how lucky she was. He was nineteen and she was a high school freshman. She felt so special that he had chosen her.
After a few months together—the most wonderful months of her life—Luke suggested they run away to live with his family in a neighboring city. “Your parents are over-protective, and they’ve been giving me the cold shoulder lately,” he said. Samantha knew it was true, her parents weren’t thrilled about her having an older boyfriend, but they begrudgingly let Luke stick around because Samantha had begged them. “If we move near my family,” he continued, “we’ll be able to be together, and we’ll be so much happier.”
Samantha wasn't too thrilled about the idea of leaving her friends and family, but she loved Luke and couldn’t bear the idea of living without him, so she agreed.
But when they moved, everything changed. After a few nights at their new place, Luke brought some guys over and ordered her to have sex with them. When she refused, he beat her until she complied. Sweet Luke morphed into someone different—someone awful—a monster who sold her body for money night after night, week after week.
She had no one to turn to after they moved. No family, friends, or neighbors. No access to a phone or computer. And Luke had threatened to kill her family if she did manage to contact them. She couldn’t run away either; Luke locked her in the apartment whenever he wasn’t home.
She had no way out.
Cradling her wounded head, she broke into tears as she prayed, “God please save me. Please save me.”
Most people don’t realize that over 290,000 U.S. children are at risk of being sexually exploited.
290,000 girls just like your daughter.
Samantha was an average teenage girl. She had a happy childhood, a loving family, and lived in a pleasant suburban neighborhood. She did well in school, sang in her church’s choir and played competitive sports. The point is, trafficking doesn’t just happen overseas. It happens in cities all across America. No one is exempt. It can happen to a pastor’s child, a neighbor’s daughter, or your daughter.
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And trafficking can victimize children of any age. In fact, the average age of entry into prostitution is twelve. It’s depressing, disgusting, and unbelievable, but it’s true. Turning a blind eye won’t make it disappear. In fact, if you’re a parent, that may be a very dangerous response. Instead, you need to take some active steps to protect your child from Samantha’s fate:
1) Educate yourself. The more you know, the better you will be able to protect your children. Films like Nefarious: Merchant of Souls and Shared Hope International’s documentary Chosen give a comprehensive look at the sex trafficking industry. They also examine pimp psychology—how these men manipulate young women. Become familiar with trafficking in your state and city by researching anti-trafficking organizations in your community.
2) Educate your daughter(s). Most girls are completely unaware of the threats that surround them. Without training they’re easy targets. Share information with your daughter based on her maturity level. Sadly enough, pimps recruit girls as young as ten years old, so middle school may be a good age to start with basic safety.
Does your daughter know what to do if she’s approached by a stranger? What if a staff member/teacher at her school starts paying her special attention or giving her little gifts? Is there anyone telling her, “Let’s keep this between the two of us. A secret, okay?” It may be a good idea to role play or paint different scenarios for your daughter so she’ll know how to respond if she is approached/befriended by an ill-intending adult.
3) Monitor your daughter’s outings. Typically, when we think of traffickers we think of bars, ghettos, and dark alleyways. But the scary truth is they’re also at your neighborhood parks, schools, malls, movie theaters, and bowling alleys looking for vulnerable young girls to prey on. It’s vital to determine if your daughter is in a safe environment. Is she being supervised by a trusted adult? Does she have safe transportation to and from the venue? Is she alone?
4) Know your daughter’s friends. Sadly, recruiters can even be your daughter’s school friends (male or female) looking to make some money. They’ll introduce her to a pimp and get paid for bringing in a new girl. For her well-being, get to know who your daughter is hanging out with as well as the families of those friends.
5) Watch out for older boyfriends. Pimps don’t usually kidnap girls; they manipulate them. In fact, in an interview with Shared Hope International, an ex-pimp said, “It’s impossible to protect all girls from guys like I was, because that’s what we do. We eat, drink and sleep, thinking of ways to trick young girls into doing what we want them to do.” The most prevalent method of trafficking is for an older guy (late teens to mid-twenties) to select a teenage girl and make her fall in love with him—like what happened to Samantha. Be wary of whom your daughter is dating and investigate him thoroughly. Even if your daughter is over eighteen, she’s not “too old or mature” to escape trafficking. Watch out for her best interest—because the guy she's dating may not be.
Keep in mind the words of Rachel Lloyd, founder and executive director of GEMS and author of Girls Like Us: “Pimps understand child psychology and adolescent development well enough to know the dynamics at play and can skillfully manipulate most children, regardless of socioeconomic background, prior abuse, or parenting, into a situation where they can be forced or coerced into being sold for sex.”
6) Internet Safety. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a website called Netsmartz411 to help parents protect their children from online predators. They answer questions such as: Is Nintendo Wii a safe gaming system? Is Club Penguin safe for kids? How can my child be safer while using social media?
Regarding posting pictures online, Netsmartz recommends: “Posting your child's pictures on any site could put them at risk for victimization. The rules we tell children to follow when posting pictures online is to think before posting photos. Personal photos should not have revealing information, such as school names or locations. Look at the backgrounds of the pictures to make sure you are not giving out any identifying information without realizing it. The name of a mall, the license plate of your car, signs, or the name of your sports team on your jersey or clothing all contain information that can give your family's location away.”
7) Reaffirm Your Unconditional Love. As cliché as it sounds, let your daughter know how much you love her and how special she is. You can never tell her that too much. Also reassure her that she can talk to you about anything. Often a girl who is trafficked lives in fear. She might live a “regular” life by day, but sneak out once a week to “work.” She doesn’t say anything to her parents because she’s afraid. Her pimp has threatened her by telling her, “If you tell anyone/stop working for me, I’ll kill your family”; or “If you stop, I’ll tell your parents what you did, and they’ll be so disgusted they’ll never love you again.” Make your home a safe place and let your daughter know that you love her unconditionally and that you will do anything to protect/help her. Family bridges of trust and open communication are the best preventative measures.
8) Get Involved. Your daughter may be safe, but what about all the other daughters out there? What about the girls with no family to look after them? The Bible commands us to fight injustice and defend the oppressed (Isaiah 1:17). Don’t let your concern regarding this issue end with your children. Find a way to fight this horrible trade by getting involved with international or local organizations. There are opportunities to volunteer, lobby, fundraise, and raise awareness. Do all you can to protect the innocence of girls. With everyone doing a small part we will see a change—we will see lives restored. But we must act and remember that, as David Batsone wrote in Not for Sale, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.”
**Samantha’s story is fictionalized from the real accounts of human trafficking survivors.
Want to Learn More about Human Trafficking and how you can help end it? Watch the video below.
Felicia Alvarez, a graduate of Liberty University, lives in Southern California and loves avocados, sunshine, and serving her Savior. Currently, she teaches dance to over one hundred students and is working on her second book. Connect with Felicia on her blog or on Facebook, she would love to hear from you!