Joanna Rubinstein from the World Childhood Foundation knows that child-trafficking is more prevalent now than ever before. She also knows why.
“In the past, a trafficker might be able to find five or six young people who were vulnerable, and it would take weeks or months of grooming to entrap them. Now, with the Internet, the trafficker can be working on a couple of hundred prospective victims at the same time.”
In essence, the traffickers have moved from retail to wholesale. But in Rubinstein’s experience, there’s another side to the trafficking. “In our busy age, children are more vulnerable to the attention and affirmation that the on-line trafficker uses to baits his trap.”
According to Rubinstein, here’s a typical way it gets started. A 12-year old girl is in a chat room and finds that she’s made a new friend.
He’s a little older, but he’s interested in everything about her. They text and text, and she feels wonderful, having someone who really cares about her and who understands the problems she’s having with her parents.
When he asks her to send him a picture, she quickly sends him a selfie. He tells her, “OMG, yr beautiful!” A few texts later, he tells her, “Thinking about U every moment! Pls, pls, pls, picture of U no clothes!.”
By this point, he’s her best friend, and wanting to please him she, she sends him naked pictures. Unfortunately for her, this was a really bad move. He tells her if she doesn’t do X, Y, and Z, he’ll show the naked pictures to her parents.
The girl has been groomed, and it’s not many steps to more explicit videos and then to being trafficked. He may say something along the lines of, “Meet me at the movie theater, or I’ll show your whole school the pictures of you masturbating.”
She shows up, he kidnaps her and tragically, she becomes another of the millions of children who are trafficked each year.
Rubinstein knows of countless cases like this. In her role as President and CEO of the World Childhood Foundation, she works to do something about this kind of exploitation. She wants to carry out the vision of Queen Silvia of Sweden, “To have a world where all children are free from violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation.”
Twenty years ago, the Queen decided to use her voice to do something about the problem of trafficked and abused children. The Foundation acts as a liaison between donors and community-based organizations and is currently supporting more than 100 projects in 17 countries.
As Rubinstein explains, “We identify, review and support existing projects and new initiatives and efforts that are aligned with Childhood’s mission; to defend the rights of children and to promote better living conditions for vulnerable and exploited children at risk all over the world.”
Childhood attacks the problem on many fronts, but one that’s been strikingly effective in creating visibility is the project the organization participated in with the Economist Magazine.
The program they helped support, Out of the Shadows, ranks 60 countries according to their effectiveness in dealing with child sexual abuse and exploitation.
Rubinstein has been surprised and pleased by the global publicity the report has received. It’s a pat on the back for those countries that are doing well, and an incentive to do better for those who are low in the rankings.
To find where your country ranks, go to https://outoftheshadows.eiu.com.
Rubinstein has a final thought for all of us. “If you’re at an airport or hotel and you see a child who is with an adult who doesn’t seem to be their parent, and maybe the child is acting scared or behaving in a way that makes you think something’s wrong, it’s OK to report this to security. Someone can then look into the situation more carefully.”
For more information, visit childhood-usa.org
Mitzi Perdue is a speaker. author, and organizer of the Global Anti-Trafficking Auction. Contact her at Mitzi@AntiTraffickingAuction.com.