Keeping an eye on kids’ social media accounts and their activities online is one way parents can protect their children from sex trafficking.
“If it is a social media venue, trust me, a trafficker is there, and they’re lurking,” said Susan Norris, the founder and executive director of Rescuing Hope, an organization geared toward educating teenagers and parents about sex trafficking and eradicating it.
The use of social media in sex trafficking is one of the subjects at a seminar called Hidden Dangers, to be held Wednesday, Jan. 31, at Congregation Etz Chaim in East Cobb. The seminar is for middle and high school students and their parents, but adults and young people will be separated.
Issues to be addressed include sexting, porn, social media and the Internet, and how those are used to groom and lure kids into sex trafficking.
With around 300,000 young people being trafficked at any given time, sex trafficking is a huge issue that many aren’t aware of, Norris said. Sex trafficking can happen anywhere, not just in specific areas or neighborhoods.
“I think we all live in our little bubble,” Norris said. “If we live in a safe neighborhood and we have parents who are involved, we think it’s not in the area. Particularly in the suburbs, we think we’re safe. What we find is it’s not in the poor communities only, as most people think. It also exists in suburbia, where people are making more money.”
At Rescuing Hope, Norris works with victims who have escaped sex trafficking. She has found that not only were most sexually assaulted as minors, but also that every one had abused substances, whether as a coping mechanism or as a result of being forced.
“In some cases, it’s what kept them in the life,” Norris said. “The trafficker would say, ‘As soon as you pay off your drug debt, you can leave,’ but they never pay it off.”
For those who can’t escape, the life expectancy is about seven years. Deaths occur from drug overdoses, suicides, sexually transmitted diseases, and violence at the hands of purchasers and sellers.
“Several of the girls I have served have said they contemplated suicide while in the life,” Norris said. “It’s quite horrifying when you start laying it out and looking at what we’re fighting.”
One of the main ways Norris is trying to stop sex trafficking is by making teenagers and their parents aware of what can happen and how sex traffickers work. Traffickers pose as teenagers on social media to gain trust.
“They hang out wherever teens are,” Norris said. “They can pretend to be someone of the same age and same sex or someone of the opposite sex, gaining insight and information. They schedule to meet, and when they do, they find out it’s not who they expected.”
To help keep their kids safe, parents should lock down their kids’ social media accounts and know all their login information.
“Parents need to know every social media outlet their kids are on and be on there as well to make sure it’s appropriate,” Norris said. “You wouldn’t put a sign on your yard and say, ‘My kids are here. Come have at it.’ This is the same thing.”
One teen Norris worked with was a home-schooler who encountered a sexual predator while playing an online game from her bedroom. The predator persuaded the girl to take nude photographs of herself, which were then used in a child pornography ring.
“It happened while the young lady was in her bedroom and Mom was in the kitchen,” Norris said. “Perpetrators are learning how to invade our homes without physically invading our homes.”
Norris said she hopes those attending the seminar will take the information they learn and spread it to their friends, who then will pass it to their friends.
“They can go into their circles and impact others,” she said. “Then we can start widening the reach to protect our children.”
What: Hidden Dangers sex trafficking seminar
Where: Congregation Etz Chaim, 1190 Indian Hills Parkway, East Cobb
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 31
Admission: Free; RSVP at www.etzchaim.net/hiddendangers