Many in our community think that teen sex trafficking is something that only happens overseas, but sex trafficking is no longer only a foreign issue or just happening to “run-aways.” Inform your neighbors that traffickers are scouting our community to recruit our teens.
- Acknowledge the problem exists.
- Understand that the teenagers induced into this lifestyle are victims, not criminals.
- Recognize the signs that indicate a teen you know may be a target or involved in trafficking. Watch the video below to learn the signs. If you see something that feels amiss…ask about it. Here are some ideas…
For adults who see the teen on a daily or weekly basis (school professionals, counselors, therapists, probation officers, faith-based leaders, community group leaders)
1) First just ask yourself…
- Have you seen unexplained changes in a teen’s mood or behavior?
- Has the teen been unusually withdrawn from his/her usual activities?
- Has a teen you know changed friends or is s/he spending time with “suspicious” individuals?
- Has a teen you know recently developed a negative attitude toward family, school, friends, and/or authorities?
- Has a teen you know shown signs of substance abuse or new mental health concerns?
- Has a teen you know had unexplained injuries?
Then ask the teen for more information. Do not be confrontational, blame, or judge the teen; be persistent and be clear that you are concerned and want to help.
Teachers/school employees just ask:
“Help me understand, why you are not doing the homework?” ”What are you doing when you skip school?” One survivor of sex trafficking said, “My teacher told me that if I didn’t care about doing the work then I shouldn’t come to school. I wish they had seen that my problem was more than a school issue.”
Probation officers/social workers just ask:
“Who are you hanging out with now?” “Do you really think that your older ‘boyfriend’ has your best interests in mind?” ”How did you get those bruises?” One survivor said “I wish my PO would have locked me up every time I did not come home for curfew.” I wish my therapist asked me more about my boyfriend. I wish my therapist pushed me more to talk about it. I needed someone to call my bluff.” When my PO, social worker, and the school met to discuss my case, they were more interested in telling me what I should and should not do than they were in asking me what was wrong.”
For licensed counselors/therapists just ask:
“Tell me more about your boyfriend.” Or, “It seems that you have been sexually involved with a lot of different men…is that really your choice, or is someone pushing you into that behavior?” “Has anyone asked you to be sexually active with them or another person in exchange for money, clothes, or something else you wanted?” One sex trafficking survivor said, “I wish my therapist had asked me more about my boyfriend; I wish she pushed me more to talk about it. I needed someone to call my buff.”
For adults who interact with the teen on a one-time basis (emergency room workers, doctors, nurses, and professionals at urgent care, clinics, or private practices; law enforcement pulling someone over, for example, on a traffic stop, private security, and legal system professionals)
1) First just ask yourself…
- Does the teen have a believable explanation for injuries?
- Is the teen afraid to be seen without her “friend” present?
- Does the teen avoid answering questions and defer to the “friend”?
- Does the teen seem significantly underweight?
2) If yes, then just ask the teen…
- “May I talk to you alone without your friend?”
- “Is that person with you really your …uncle (or boyfriend or cousin)?”
- “How did you really get those bruises?”
- “How did you really get those cigarette burns (cut marks…) on your arm (or neck…)?”
- “Are you afraid that your friend will be angry if you tell me the truth?”
For fellow citizens, business community members, or neighbors, who observe something amiss with a teen in public (at a shopping mall, public transportation, hotel/apartment complex, on the street, at a park)
1. First just ask yourself…
- Did the teen appear to be significantly younger than her male acquaintance?
- Have you witnessed that same teen with many different men within a short period of time?
- Did it seem that the teen wanted to be with the person or did he/she appear to be afraid?
- Have you seen suspicious activity in your community around a specific local business or apartment complex?
2. If yes, then just call in a tip…
- The police hotline number 703-246-4006
- The Polaris Project hotline number (800-377-7888) for issues in NOVA. They are the first line of defense for emergencies as well as for intervention and recovery programs.
1. Just ask yourself…
- Does the teen have unexplained access to money, possessions, or a second cell phone?
- Have you seen unexplained changes in his/her mood or behavior?
- Has the teen changed friends or is spending time with “suspicious” individuals?
- Has the teen recently developed a negative attitude toward family, school, friends, and/or authorities?
- Do you notice the teen staying out later than usual?
- Has a teen you know shown signs of substance abuse?
- Has her “boyfriend” threatened to hurt her if she tries to leave?
- Report IT. For emergencies, call 911. For a crime tip, call the police number. Call the Polaris hotline number for NOVA intervention and recovery programs.
- Lend a listening ear
- Tell the teen that you care and that they are loved.
- Tell the teen that you are willing to listen.
- Give the teen time to share what’s bothering them. Don’t force the issue, but be persistent.
- Never blame the teen for what is happening.
- Focus on the teen’s self-image; point out the teen’s strengths and skills.
- Give the teen emotional support.
- Surround the teen with people who love them that they can trust.
- Help the teen envision a better, happier life.
- Emphasize that the teen deserves a life that is free from exploitation and violence.