Warning: This blog contains mature content and may make some audiences uncomfortable. Make sure to read the first post of the series, “What is human trafficking — and why should I care?”
When I have conversations about human trafficking, I often hear phrases similar to “it’s terrible what happens in other countries” or “I’m so thankful to live in the U.S.” What we fail to realize is that human trafficking is in our own backyards. It’s not just an “over-there” issue. In fact, it’s not even a different state issue.
According to the FBI, St. Louis, MO, ranks in the top 20 of trafficking destinations in the United States. Kansas City is ranked as No. 2 for domestic minor sex trafficking. In 2017, 13 businesses in Springfield were raided due to a link to human trafficking (and even more were investigated). In May 2018, two trafficked women were rescued in small-town Higginsville, MO. This terrible crime occurs everywhere – in large cities and in small towns. The number of people who become involved in trafficking continues to rise every year.
We know that this is an issue that pervades our communities, but how will we know if we stumble across human trafficking? With the beginning of the school year quickly approaching, I thought I would provide this list of signs that a student could be a victim of sex trafficking. This list was provided to me by The Exodus Road.
- Unexplained school absences
- An abrupt change in attire, behavior, or relationships
- The presence of an older “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”
- Travel with an older male who is not a guardian
- The sudden presence of expensive material possessions
- Chronic running away
- Signs of psychological coercion, such as depression, anxiety, and/or an overly submissive attitude
- Lack of control over own schedule, money, and/or proof of identification
- Signs of physical trauma, including bruises, cuts, burns, and/or scars
- Tattoos or other branding marks (common ones include a single rose, a crown, or initials other than those belonging to the student)
- Poor health, STDs, malnutrition, and/or serious dental problems
- Substance abuse or addictions, or selling drugs
- Coached/rehearsed responses to questions
- Uncharacteristically promiscuous behavior and/or references to sexual situations or terminology beyond age-specific norms
(Remember that exhibition of a few of these signs does not necessarily mean a student is being trafficked. They may just be experiencing depression, poor health, etc. Watch for students who exhibit multiple signs.)
Not only is it important that we recognize these signs in students who may be trafficked, it is also imperative to recognize when a student is being “groomed” for trafficking. An older individual (this could be male or female) may try to spend more time with the student, drawing them away from friends or family members. This is usually a gradual process. Many teenage girls become trapped in trafficking after forming online relationships with individuals who assume a false identity. It is incredibly important for parents to monitor their children’s social media accounts, teaching them safe online practices.
Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) instructs us: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This should include not only moral instruction, but also practical instruction. I cannot stress enough how vital it is for us to teach our children how to keep themselves safe. This teaching extends beyond safe online practices.
The most vulnerable of children are those who feel isolated and lonely. We need to teach our children that they are not alone. Building this foundation of support at a young age greatly reduces a child’s chances of being approached by a trafficker. If we begin teaching our children these principles now, how much safer will they be later?
Not all children are blessed with a strong support system. Many come from broken and abusive homes and are that much more vulnerable to grooming. It is our job to watch out for these children when their families cannot or will not. As an abolitionist friend, Robert Hulse, once pointed out, caring for the “least of these” is part of our calling as Christians. By watching over these children, we put our faith into action. We are doing away with an individualistic “get saved to go to heaven” mentality and replacing it with “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Human trafficking is in our nation, our cities, and our communities. This isn’t an “over-there” issue— it is OUR issue. It is our job to disallow it in our communities. It’s time for us to take ownership of this problem and take responsibility for the safety of our friends and families. If you see a student exhibiting the signs listed above and you suspect trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Until next time,