All told, I know over 100 people under the age of 18. That means that statistically I know personally at least one minor who is being sex-trafficked. Though it's always hard to estimate the numbers within illegal industries, we can calculate that at least 1.8 of every hundred children in the U.S. is being trafficked for sex. And if you know kids in the foster system? The statistics get really scary.
This issue affects all of us. I've talked again and again about it, but I want to give more real-world solutions from a more holistic perspective. What I mean by that is, not everyone should devote all their time for working with the organizations and nonprofits that are fighting sex trafficking. If we think that's the only way to fight this, we're not only seriously near-sighted, we're also missing the larger picture.
This problem is about real, normal children living real, normal lives. Of course there should be nothing ordinary about being sold for sex to ten to twenty adults every night. But these kids are going to school. Living in homes. Going to church even. They may get bad grades or act out or constantly run away, but it's not because they're predestined to a bad life. They have great potential: the potential for a true, normal life with education and work, family and friends, a home they belong to and a family of their own, and most of all, a life of great impact.
For most of you, this is what you want for yourself, too. Or what you have, or are at least working on. You have a home. You are going/went to college; your kids go to school. You have parents you love. You're looking for work. Right? Isn't that what most of our lives look like? If everybody is seeking the same thing--a place to belong, people that believe in them--there's got to be a way to combine how we live our lives with our goals of ending sex-trafficking so that the way we live BECOMES how we fight for freedom.
And the answer yes, there sure is. Here are four basic ways you can make a difference through what you already do.
1. The best way to help kids is to welcome them into your life. Seriously. On the most elemental level, the way to stop sex-trafficking once and for all is to love these kids and show them they're worth something. How? Pay attention and listen. Spend time with them. This doesn't have to take extra time out of your already busy day. I don't want you to feel guilty about one more thing you should be doing; I'm telling you that you're already practically there.
Do you have kids? Be intentional about having them invite their friends over. Even the tough ones. You'll have to put down boundaries sometimes, and that's healthy. But even if it's just a few kids, welcoming them into your family and showing them what a healthy home looks like can make a huge difference. You may not even realize it, yet some of the kids who have the healthy-appearing families actually are surrounded by dark secrets. Welcome them in and love them; laugh with them; listen to them. Having your own kids is one of the biggest ways to be able to connect with other children and teens. In a sense, this is another form of adoption: welcoming other kids into your family life even though they're not yours.
And if you don't have kids? Babysit. If your friends have kids, invite the whole family over. You know some of these kids and you know they have great parents, so they're obviously not the ones being trafficked, you say. That's great! Still welcome them into your life and home. The more love and support they receive, the more they can fight on behalf of their friends who are not in as good a situation.
2. Get involved in the organizations your kids are in--or if you don't have kids, just get involved. Volunteer in the local daycare or after-school programs. Maybe right now your kids come home after school; enroll them in something so you can do it together. Or maybe your kids are in the youth group at church; sign up as a biblestudy leader (probably ask your teen for permission first, so they don't feel like you're stalking them). Sign up to be one of the "team moms" for the soccer team. It may feel like a small contribution, but the small encouragements you speak and the simple respect with which you treat the kids shows them that they matter.
Getting involved like this can be a great way to both bond more with your own kids and have strong mentoring relationships with other children. If you show yourself to be simply a safe, kind person, kids will gravitate towards you. They recognize hypocrisy, but if you're just honest, even about your own blunders, you show them what a healthy, humble adult is like. That makes an impact that lasts long after you've parted ways.
3. This next one you don't need kids to participate in, but if you do have a family of your own, all the better! Use free time or weekends to do work in the inner city or with other vulnerable populations. Sometimes when kids come along, adults retreat into the safety of the home and stop doing the risky things they once did because they want to protect their children. However, you protect them better by going with them into areas of poverty and among at-risk kids.
Show them how to treat people with dignity and how to take risks safely and wisely. Studies show that kids are intrigued by things that scare adults. Your fear only makes it more likely they'll experiment on their own. It turns out that when we don't take risks and talk about it with our kids, they try to find adventure and thrill on their own, without the knowledge and wisdom that their parents could give them. Do yourself a favor and show your kids how to take risks. Life isn't worth it without risk.
So even though it scares you or you're way outside your comfort zone, swallow your fear, grab your family or a friend and go. It's never too soon or too late to start. Sure, weekends are busy; so go once a month. Brings your neighbors; the more the merrier (and what a great way to bond!). Go and just hang out with the kids who, because of where they live or what they look like, have been told they can't. Tell them they CAN. Give them the courage to try harder at school and to reach for the stars. Chances are, no one has taken the time to tell them that. No wonder boys fall to trafficking girls for sex; it's a highly profitable industry that doesn't require standard education but does require good street smarts. It's something they're good at and can make money at--and no one has ever told them that they're better. Tell them that they are.
Men, we really need you on this one. Teenage boys aren't going to listen to happy, churchgoing moms that are telling them, "We love you!" They're too macho for that. You may at first feel like they view you as a threat, but that's because they look at you and see a man who has a real job and a real family--who is successful. You're all they think they can't be. They need you to tell them that they can. That they have what it takes. If you never had someone to believe in you as a child, then you know what it's like. Believe in them.
4. Last of all, educate people, especially your children, about the problem. This one's a tough one. American parents are already abysmal at educating our children on sex; we leave it to public school teachers who have no relationship with our kids and who simply tell them, "do it safely!" That's not what kids need. They need parents who will square with them and talk about it, even though it's hard. There are a lot more resources and ideas on this in the footnotes section of this post.*
But don't just square with them about sex. We also need to talk with kids about the issue of trafficking. We need to explain at a young age why this is wrong and that we should be doing something to stop it. We also need to explain to them warning signs, so that they can be careful. Many kids just don't realize when they're being stalked for a potential victim; heck, I probably wouldn't have when I was a kid, either. But I would have told my parents about this person who keeps running into me...because I trust my parents and I talk to them about what's going on in my life. If you've talked with your kids so that they know you are a safe place to turn, then they're more likely to bring things up with you so you can help them evaluate what's going on.
We are real people living real lives. The fight against sex-trafficking is waged by moms with kids, lawyers working for justice, public service men like the police, nurses in hospitals, statisticians doing research, writers interviewing people, business owners, managers over a department. Just because you work in an office and spend your time with a busy family doesn't mean you can't do anything; on the contrary, it means you are uniquely placed to help raise awareness by bringing up the topic with your friends or using your skills to reach out, raise funds, teach kids, give youth a job. For this battle to be won, we normal people need to fight for it too.
One final thing: I don't believe that life was meant to be spent in comfort and no-risk scenarios. At the end of such a life, it feels empty. We were made to take purposeful risks (like marriage--vowing to love someone forever is a hugely risky endeavor!). The riskier things are the most fulfilling. Life must hang in the balance! We are also made for "Real Life:" to get married and work a job and have a family and enjoy your house and make friends with your neighbors. I think that stuff is good. I think that living a purposeful, risky life doesn't mean running away from the stuff of real life. There is risk involved in even the mundane. Let's not run from it; embrace it. Be willing for your crazy life to be crazy and stop trying to control what is beyond you.
All we can do is live deliberately aware and deliberately loving. That is the 'how.' The 'what' is whatever you've already made life to be. That is how we fight sex trafficking: doing what we do, but doing it deliberately.
* Another blogger has posted several times about the issue of talking about sex with your kids. I've included her articles and several of the links from her as well. All these resources can be adapted for talking about sex trafficking. Remember, a pimp isn't going to go for your son or daughter when you're around. They need to know how to avoid it when you're not there in order to be safe.
- Make Talking to Your Teens About Sex Low-Stress
- How to Talk to Your Children About Sex
- Teaching Your Kids Appropriate/Healthy Relationships with the Opposite Sex
- The Sex Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents
- How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex
6. Three Things You Don't Know About Your Children and Sex