Teens Chatting On Social Media Vulnerable To Human Traffickers

Posted on Thursday, September 7, 2023 by Felipe Aguilar, Marya Morgan

If you believe you have experienced trafficking, or might know someone who has, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. 

Office In Trafficking Persons: Victim Assistance

(AIr1 Closer Look) - Human traffickers rarely drive white vans. 

“Just so you know, some kids that are trafficked actually aren’t taken from their home – they still live at their house.” 

How does this happen? 

“Many many times, the trafficker is someone the family knows and trusts -- or that the kid thinks they know,” says Molly Vogt of Life Restored San Antonio, a ministry dedicated to survivors. Expert tricksters spend months -- or even years -- lying to build friendship with your teenager before eventually springing a twisted trap. “There are many different apps that they use for games, for social media, TikTok, Instagram – there are ways people are chatting back and forth with our kids.” Your good and smart kid may believe their online friend is their age, but a 2015 study by the anti-sex trafficking group Thorn, a full 55% of victims of domestic minor sex trafficking say they first made contact with their trafficker online. “By the time they went to meet this person, it wasn’t who they thought they were.”

A web of lies and threats trick kids into illegal actions like indecent photos. Once the youth is entangled in sexually explicit activities they may be too afraid to tell you. 

Girl on boardwalk, can
[Photo Credit: Unsplash/Joel Mott]

Melissa Soderlund was just 17-yrs-old when she was lured into a life of exploitation by a skilled groomer. “I was not aware I was being trafficked because traffickers are such wonderful manipulators, they give you false promises -- they prey on vulnerabilities.” She describes herself as taking the bait, “hook line and sinker.”

Human trafficking is second only to drugs as a worldwide criminal enterprise, bringing $150-billion per year trading girls, women, men and boys, for labor or sex. Government agencies, law enforcement and survivor advocates say proactive parenting and acute awareness are your best weapons. Sometimes called brainwashing, grooming tactics change all the time as technology changes. One consistent factor is that the process typically takes place slowly over time. By the time her trafficker made his move, Soderlund explains, “I believed the lie that I really wasn’t worth anything.”

As a survivor who ministers to girls trapped from all walks of life Soderlund warns that no one immune. Parents ask her, “’how can my family be so vulnerable when they’re even at home?’  – there’s a specific mom comes to mind,” she recalls. “She goes to church, raised her kids in the church but come to find out her daughter was trafficked as well -- right under her nose.”

If your child is acting a little odd, showing up with items, gifts, they never had before, spending time on social media, being secretive – it could all be warning signs. “If you suspect anything that is just off with your child, don’t think “oh they’re just a teenager, it’s just a phase,” you really need to look into it.”

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