January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Human trafficking is a social epidemic that even now, in modern times, pervades the United States. It is a form of slavery where people are sold for sex and labor by captors who force their victims to perform these acts against their will and without recompense.
Michigan is ranked No. 2 in the nation for its high levels of human trafficking, and that means protecting your children from human traffickers needs to be part of your lifestyle. Here are some strategies you can use to keep your family safe.
Offer your children real love
This is a simple step you probably already take every day, but now you can do it with a purpose. When your children feel loved and accepted at home, they won't go looking for that affection elsewhere. Modeling real love with your spouse and other loved ones can also help your children recognize the difference between true love and passing fancy.
Notice unexplained gifts or purchases
If you notice your kids playing with new toys or your teens suddenly going on shopping sprees with unexplained funds, pay attention. Find out where those toys or that money came from. It's your job as a parent to be a little nosy about your child's life. Those gifts could be coming from a predator or trafficker who is trying to gain the trust of your children.
Be present when out and about
Don't get too distracted when you're out in public and you have your child with you. No matter how often you've visited a certain playground or store, there's no guarantee that it's safe every time. Cellphones can be distractions, but so can conversations with friends or other family members. A human trafficker only needs a few seconds of your straying attention to grab your child.
Pay attention to their social media accounts
If your child is being groomed by a trafficker, you may see some communication show up on Facebook or some other online forum. Find out what social media sites your child frequents and frequent the same sites yourself to find out what kinds of interactions he or she is having. If your child seems irritated by your involvement, he or she could just be exhibiting normal teenager angst or he or she could be feeling guilty about illicit communications. Don't be afraid to find out which it is.
Meet their friends
When your kids mention their friends' names, do you know who they're talking about? Familiarizing yourself with those friends can help you gauge what kind of people your child feels comfortable with. You can also keep an eye out for older boyfriends. They may be the nicest guys in the world or they might be on the lookout for an easy target. Can you tell which is which?
Act out scenarios
Talking about hypothetical situations where your children might be targeted is a good idea, but it's even better to act out possible scenarios with them. Role play the parts of the victim and possible perpetrator. Be realistic with the scenarios and debrief them afterward to find out what your children think they would do differently in real life. Having this open level of communication between you and your kids is an important part of keeping them safe.
Set a curfew
A curfew could be a parent's best friend for preventing harm from coming to your child. "The later you are out, the more you are exposed to people are fatigued, who are celebrating, who are drug or alcohol affected, who are more inclined to social violence, who are more likely to have a fatal car accident," Dr. Carl Pickhardt wrote for Psychology Today. He also cited research which has found that alcohol-related fatalities in car crashes skyrocket at night. As if you needed another reason to set a curfew your child.
Agree on rules for how often they should call home
You can encourage your children to take responsibility for themselves by making them in charge of contacting you regularly when they're out of the house. You can agree on a set interval of sending a text or calling in so they can update you on their whereabouts and their plans for returning home. Let them know that if they know they won't be able to contact you at the scheduled time they need to let you know ahead. This constant communication can help improve your peace of mind and give you a clue when something might be wrong.
If you need more information about human trafficking, you are a victim of human trafficking, or you know a victim of human trafficking, call the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority crisis hotline 24/7 at 800-241-4949 or visit dwmha.com.
DWMHA - Here to talk. Here to help.