A recent sting operation in St. Paul, Minnesota underscores the nationwide problem of online sex trafficking. Although sex trafficking historically occurs as a physical interaction, as the internet and messaging apps evolve, so do opportunities for sex predators to find victims.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”
The sting investigation in Minnesota netted seven arrests after officers went undercover online, posing as 15-year-old girls. They posted on popular apps, like Whisper and MeetMe, eventually charging seven people for soliciting sex with a minor.
In a press release, the Washington County Attorney’s Office noted, “The amount of volume from men communicating with law enforcement surprised even the most seasoned sex trafficking detectives.”
Every child is a potential victim to online predators
Back in 2019, as part of an investigation, writer Sloane Ryan posed online as an 11-year-old girl to illustrate the dangers of online predators. Working in conjunction with the organization Bark, she was shocked and horrified by what she found. (Content warning: This piece contains sexual content and descriptions of child sex abuse that could be disturbing to some readers.)
The main takeaway of her experience is that sex predators and sex traffickers are everywhere, and this includes online.
She writes, “The brutal reality is that a predator doesn’t have to be in the same room, building, or even country to abuse a child. And that’s what they’re doing — subjecting children to psychological and sexual abuse.”
Teach your kids to recognize the red flags of sex predators
We understand that this can be a difficult conversation for children of any age, but it is a crucial one. If your children are mature enough to have online access, they are mature enough to discuss the responsibilities of internet citizenship.
Following are some conversation opportunities you can have with your children or teens regarding online safety and sex traffickers.
- Remind your children of the importance of not sharing personally identifiable information online. This includes wearing apparel with their school name, or telling people they don’t know in real life where they go to school, or live, or work. This goes for their phone numbers and other social media accounts as well.
- Learn about grooming and explain the stages of grooming behavior to your children so they are able to recognize it if it happens to them.
- Talk to your kids about “sexy selfies.” Make it clear to never take a photo that they would not want online for everyone to see, including classmates, teachers, prospective employers, and their entire family. Let them know if anyone ever asks for a provocative photo or anything that feels uncomfortable, they should log off and immediately tell an adult.
The most important thing you should stress to your children, however, is that anything that might happen is not their fault, and they can always talk openly and honestly with you.
Common Sense Media offers more conversation starters about online safety.
Are there certain apps my child should avoid using?
New social apps pop up every day, so it’s next to impossible to keep up with the next big thing. However, there are a few social apps known to be frequented by sex predators:
|· Discord |
|· Snapchat |
Many of these apps are not inherently dangerous, but are considerably dangerous when used by predators as a platform to groom and gain access to minors to commit acts of sexual assault and abuse.
A great way to gain trust and understanding with your children is to spend time with them on new apps and games. You can find out how popular apps, games, and platforms work (and even install them for yourself) over at Common Sense Media.
Finally, some parents choose to use blocking software to ensure online safety. TechRadar offers a variety of product reviews. If you do choose to use blocking or keylogging software, remember; it is still crucial to have an online safety discussion with your children.
- Mythbusting Human Trafficking: Facts and Misconceptions
- How to Spot a Victim of Sex Trafficking
- Federal Human and Sex Trafficking Laws – What You Need to Know
If your child has suffered abuse at the hands of a sexual predator, the attorneys at McGowan, Hood & Felder, LLC want to help. We dedicate ourselves to ensuring the offender is held responsible for their actions, and that your child receives the help he or she needs and deserve. To schedule a free consultation with one of our South Carolina attorneys, call 803-327-7800, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.
Randy is the former President of the South Carolina Association for Justice. He has been certified by the American Board of Professional Liability as a specialist in Medical Malpractice Law which is recognized by the South Carolina Bar. Randy has also been awarded the distinction of being a “Super Lawyer” 10 times in the last decade. He has over 25 years of experience helping injured people fight back against corporations, hospitals and wrong-doers.
Read more about S. Randall Hood