You want your kids to be safe, right?
“Start early,” warns Lamont Hiebert. “Traffickers have been known to start grooming children as young as eight years old.” As Program Director of UNITAS, the New York and Serbian-based anti-trafficking organization, he has more expertise on this than most people.
He’s seen that traffickers can be patient and strategic about gaining the confidence of their targets. Let’s say we’re talking about a boy. He could be ten or 12, and one day an older boy he knows and looks up to tells him, “Here’s $100, get your mom a bag of groceries.”
The boy is thrilled. As Hiebert says, “Can you imagine how good he feels? He’s a hero!”
The older boy stays in touch with the boy, acting like a mentor, doing small favors for him. Then one day, when the boy is a couple of years older, his “friend” says, “Hey, I need a favor. Run this errand for me.”
The errand involves something illegal, and the boy knows it, but he wants to look good to the older boy and agrees. Helping out his older friend and getting paid for it becomes a habit.
So where does this lead? Soon, the older boy asks him to help recruit girls for trafficking. He’s on his way to a life as a pimp.
Hiebert knows countless stories like this, but here’s what he does with them. He and his colleagues have created what must be one of the most comprehensive school-based trafficking prevention programs in the United States. Maybe in the world.
“It’s based on the lived experience of survivors,” his colleague, UNITAS Education & Training Director Tonya Turner explains. Kids relate to what others have gone through, and they learn the tools to recognize the threats and to resist them.
One of the truly impressive approaches UNITAS uses is comics. One of the comics, for example, tells of a high school girl who’s lonely and meets a guy on Instagram who truly “gets” her. The story is gripping and relatable as you watch her fall in love with the guy.
The guy wants pictures of her naked, and she ends up going along with it. But then she tries to back off and doesn’t want to send him the more revealing pictures he’s demanding. He texts back that if she doesn’t send him even more explicit photos, he’s going to send all the photos she ever sent him to her whole school. “Everyone @ school will see yr a slut with tiny boobs and a fat stomach.”
The entire course is realistic, at times gritty, but the young people who take the course learn enough to be highly vigilant against the traffickers.
UNITAS Executive Director Todd Cavaluzzi has suggestions for things you can do to help prevent trafficking:
- The first thing you can do is to learn and spread the word.
- Keep seeking out information from reputable sources online like our website (www.unitas.ngo), as well as other organizations like Polaris, ECPAT, and Love146.
- Then spread the word and help educate others in conversations with family and friends and colleagues to make sure that more and more people know what is going on with this important issue. Here is a link to seven downloadable infographics that help explain human trafficking in the US. Download them, share them, post them, print them, whatever you need to do to help explain this complex issue to your family, friends, and colleagues.
- Use this link to our digital comics that you can view and share with your social network. The comics help make human trafficking easily understood even by kids. The latest installment deals with the issue of sextortion and how kids can get trapped by emailing sexy pictures of themselves to someone they think they know.
- The next level you can go to is to donate your time, energy and resources to anti-trafficking organizations that are doing good, smart, work to fight human trafficking.
- Finally, you can get involved directly with kids who are at-risk for being trafficked, by becoming a tutor, a mentor, or even a big brother or big sister and just being there for them.
Mitzi Perdue is a speaker, author, business owner, and organizer of the Global Anti-Trafficking Auction.