In the digital age, everyone is online and on social media, including pimps who use those platforms as a tool to try to lure young girls into sex trafficking.
Pimps begin their search by looking for children and teens who are posting about the problems they’re having at home onto social media.
The average age of a sex trafficking victim is between 12-14 years-old.
Sergeant Matt Wilson with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office says predators will try to comfort those young girls by offering to take them shopping and listening to their problems.
“Oh you’re fighting with your parents, oh you’re not having a good time at home,” Wilson said. “Well, meet me at the mall, meet me at the movies, I’ll buy you the new pair of Jordans or I’ll buy you a movie and then come back next week and…get your hair done or something.”
Just like that, a young girl can fall under the influence of a pimp, and he will start threatening her to pay back what he bought her.
“Human trafficking is about pimps manipulating young females, typically females, adults, and teenagers,” Wilson explained. “They want to gain the trust of that female, whether that be through purchases that they’re doing or you know that they’re ‘boyfriend-girlfriend’ because they want to have something over that young girl’s head to then force them to go out and make money for them.”
If your child is on social media, pimps will have an easier time trying to manipulate them, because of how accessible social media accounts can be.
A local girl who is just 12 years-old said she has been targeted by traffickers.
“Honestly I have I have been fished for trafficking multiple times,” Samantha said. “Because my mom is such a strong woman and taught me what to do in instances like this I made it through.”
The Sexual Assault Crisis Center in Appleton works with 15 school districts to teach seventh graders how to look for signs when someone is trying to lure them into danger.
“It seems safe because it’s just advice, whether it’s a tablet or a phone or a laptop of some sort, but that’s the number one way that these children are being recruited,” Amy Flanders, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, explained.
That’s why it’s important to have access to your children’s phones, and that includes having their passwords to unlock their phones, accounts to social media, and other websites.
“Even though the parents pay for the cell phone plan and pay for that cell phone, they cannot give the police consent to go through that phone,” Wilson said. “The Supreme Court has said that children have an expectation of privacy if the parents don’t know the information to get in the phone and regularly search the phone to see what they’re doing. So if a parent calls and says, ‘Hey, I think my 16 year-old is involved in something, here’s her cell phone, I’m going to give you consent to search it.’ If I say, ‘Well, you don’t have permission to because you’re not constantly searching it, or you don’t know the passcode’ I mean, parents freak out about that.”
While pimps will mostly target your child online, there are signs parents can look out for.
“Is the student suddenly missing class, are they skipping school, are they going on trips that they had never gone on before, leaving town for days at a time?” Flanders said. “Also, do they have multiple cell phones? Those are the types of things that you might start to notice.”
If your child is writing about problems at home onto their social media pages, pimps will try to take advantage of their distress.
“There are people out there who are looking for those vulnerable clues, those vulnerable words, and that’s what they’re going to glom onto,” Flanders said. “So again, it comes back to, okay so if it is open to the public be careful what you’re saying, so again that’s a conversation that parents, teachers, counselors and trusted adults can have with kids.”
The number one way to fight back against a predator is to keep an open line of communication with your child.
“Just having those casual conversations when you’re in the car and you’re driving someplace, or you’re doing something that you do as a family and those conversations come up, just being there and listening for those key words,” Flanders said.
Sergeant Matt Wilson also told me that the Brown County Sheriff’s Office arrested more than 50 johns, or buyers of sex, last year.
Resources to help victims of sex trafficking:
Sexual Assault Crisis Center – Fox Cities: http://www.sacc-foxcities.org/
National Human Trafficking Resource Center (open 24/7): 1 (888) 373-7888
Wisconsin Department of Justice: https://www.doj.state.wi.us/ocvs/human-trafficking