USA (MNN) — A couple of months ago, Mission Network News aired a four-part series about the second-leading crime in the world: human trafficking…within the United States.
It's hard to imagine that the girls walking city streets or being auctioned on the internet are the daughters of any respectable mother or father. But as we saw with ex-slave Teresa Flores, girls who are tricked, coerced or threatened into selling their bodies do not all come from one demographic. Flores grew up in a suburban home with a nice family and loving parents. No loving parent should ever assume that their children will not be confronted with this issue.
In our series we discussed how to eradicate sex slavery in the United States; today, we'll look at how you can prevent your children, or the children in your sphere of influence, from ever ending up in the trade to begin with.
Theresa Flores, who frequently partners with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, was a slave herself. Years later, she knows from experience what would have kept her from ever being trafficked on a nightly basis out of her suburban home.
Before parents and teachers can begin to educate their children on this issue, they need to educate themselves, says Flores. Learn about the issue in the United States, in your own state, and your own city or town. Educate yourself with resources like our September series, or Flores' autobiographical book The Slave Across the Street. These will help give you a fuller understanding of the danger of the issue, so you can properly emphasize the seriousness of this risk to your children.
It's never too early to teach your kids the basic principle: "Don't talk to strangers." This old adage is incredibly important, but not just for young kids. As teens get older, they need to remember this truth, especially since many traffickers will try to coerce young girls with flattering words or modeling offers that don't actually exist. Prevention here comes through "trying to instill in the kids at any age about that gut feeling, about listening to it. Don't just dismiss it. If somebody doesn't feel like a good person, or if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is," implores Flores.
Further education may depend on the age of your children. You might talk about "old time slavery and that we thought that that was gone and eradicated, and it's really not," suggests Flores. Parents can start by talking with younger kids about other types of slavery, such as child labor exploitation. Flores mentions here that the work does not end with parents, but teachers can and should hop on board as well. As Christian educators discuss history, government, literature and almost any other topic, the issue of human trafficking can be discussed. This will raise awareness, as well as alert kids to signs they may have been previously unable to identify as lures into trafficking.
The hard and awful truth is that for some children and teens, more than mere education may be necessary. "Besides teaching them about this, it's really important for the teachers [and parents] just to notice the signs and the red flags," explains Flores.
What are some of those red flags? "Grades are dropping, they're missing school a lot, getting sick a lot, maybe go to the doctor for urinary tract infections or bladder infections. If they start coming home with lots of clothes and new jewelry and expensive things that you know you didn't buy for them, that's a big red flag,"says Flores.
Parents can also take basic actions to check up on their kids. Flores' own parents may have discovered her situation much sooner had they simply checked her bed every once in a while at night. Flores asks parents to not only do that, but to occasionally visit teens at work, to call the homes of the families they're babysitting for, to be the one to pick up or drop off kids at their destinations at least every once in a while, and to engage in quality one on one time with them. Flores urges parents not to assume that their children will tell them if something is going on–traffickers are good at what they do and will have seen to it that the victim knows the consequences if they let anything slip–but to rest assured that parents have keen insight into the emotions of their children. Flores urges them to put that insight to use.
Flores herself was a sexual slave to men for two years while she was still in school and living at home. You can read more about her horrifying story, as well as more parental prevention suggestions, in her book. One thing she notes, though, is that it was clear that teachers knew something was amiss during these detrimental years but chose not to do anything. They ignored every unexcused absence, every early dismissal from class, every bruise and every illness that Flores had, not to mention several other obvious clues that something was not right, even if they didn't know it was sexual slavery. Flores implores teachers to get involved in their students' lives and to offer help if it's clear something doesn't seem right. In Flores' own story she expresses how she had no one to turn to when she was being used every night. Teachers–especially believing teachers–need to be that place to turn and need to make it clear to their students that they're prepared to be such.
A common theme among victims is low self-esteem, which needs to be counteracted by parents spending time with their children, investing in their lives, and teachers making a point to let students know that they are available to talk and listen. In The Slave Across the Street, Flores notes, "Ignoring the problem and being too cowardly to get involved only validates to the victim that they are worthless, guilty, unworthy–the one at fault."
Christ reached out to the masses through a combination of healing and preaching. He called and continues to call the weary to Himself. Reaching out to at-risk girls and preventing these crimes, to begin with, by growing up children of the Word is living the Gospel in a tangible and important way. Pray for the children in your sphere of influence, and pour the pure love of Christ into them daily. The more Christ-like love poured into a child, the higher their self-esteem, and the keener their awareness of the issue, the less likely they will be to fall into the clutches of the traumatizing world of the sex trade.