“Who’s the girl? So aware, yet so confused.”
These words are taken from a poem written by Samantha, a sixteen-year-old who was trafficked for sex. It is a poem of heartbreak, strength, and lessons learned – regretfully – the hard way.
Samantha was just sixteen when her thirteen-year-old friend, Megan, introduced her to a guy she met on Facebook. He had been lavishing Megan with complements and attention. What began as an online relationship soon led to a public meeting. He began to treat both girls to late nights, parties, and gifts.
Megan thought she’d found a boyfriend. What neither girl realized was that this romantic interest was a ploy used to lure them into trust and dependence, a process referred to as grooming. Soon, this boyfriend – a man twice Megan’s age – was leveraging the manipulative attention he’d given the girls to coerce them into performing sex acts for money, purportedly to continue funding the exciting new lifestyle they’d come to enjoy. Neither Samantha nor Megan realized they were victims of human trafficking.
What these girls experienced is a system of recruitment that occurs all too easily in the social media world. Traffickers prey upon a young person’s online exposure, using the information they find in online profiles and photographs to craft a tailor-made plan to attract and manipulate their targets.
It seems clear that while many teens recognize that online platforms are difficult to navigate safely, they are either uncertain of how to do so, or are not exercising enough discernment or restraint. Consider the following statistics documented by Common Sense Media:
- 39% (2 out of 5) of American teens have personally posted something online that they’ve later regretted.
- 28% have shared personal information about themselves online that they would not have shared in public.
- 79% (4 out of 5) think their friends share too much personal information online.
- 58% (3 out of 5) fear that sharing too much online could keep them from getting into college or getting a job in the future.
Through a system of empowerment and management, you can assist your children in building and maintaining a plan of action regarding their online presence. Not all online interactions lead to exploitation, but an empowered youth is one who is less likely to fall into an exploitative situation, should it arise. Use the infographic above to work out a plan with your kids that will empower them to navigate online platforms safely and successfully.
Learn more about how you can empower your kids to stay safe from exploitation at www.iempathize.org/empower/teens.