PHILADELPHIA - Teens are allowing themselves to become vulnerable to human traffickers in a reported new trend, which involves slipping social media information into pants pockets in clothing stores, experts say.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and Natalie Proud, Associate Program Director of Covenant House Pennsylvania discussed perils of trafficking and how it is more common than many people realize. Proud oversees the anti-trafficking coalition.
Regarding the new trend, young girls may want followers on social media. They write their information down and put that information into the pockets of pants, dresses, skirts and more at clothing stores or departments stores. Many just don't understand the greater consequences of these actions.
"Traffickers prey on young people and people that are vulnerable. Social media is a big way that traffickers target young people. And, if you think about it, you don’t really have any context for you meet someone online. If you want to talk with someone that your family member knows or in the neighborhood, you know other people and they may be able to give you some kind of warning. But, traffickers, they prey on young people. They slide into their DMs, as the kids say, and they really wine and dine them before they really get to the point where they exploit them. So, they gain their trust, make them feel like they’re the most special person in the world and then they exploit them for sex or labor trafficking," Proud explained.
"Sex trafficking and labor trafficking include the use of force for coercion in exchange for a commercial sex act, or for labor purposes, domestic servitude, involuntary servitude, things of that nature. Anyone 17 and under. There does not have to be any forced fraud or coercion involved. So, if the youth is saying ‘This is something I wanted to do, you know, this is my boyfriend,’ they legally cannot consent to a commercial sex act and so therefore, it’s federally defined as trafficking," Natalie elaborated.
People may be surprised to learn 12 to 13-years-old is the age that traffickers begin seeking vulnerable youth.
"Unfortunately, 12 and 13-year-olds are mostly trusting of adults and, also, people, traffickers and sex buyers get the most money for younger people," Natalie commented.
Another surprising truth of traffickers is 80 percent of victims know the person. Proud explained it this way, "A lot of Hollywood and the media want to just think it’s the Epstein’s of the world and billionaires and rich people that are doing this and strangers and kids are getting snatched from the bus stops and, while that does happen, that is the least likely way for someone to be trafficked. So, traffickers earn someone’s trust to then manipulate it later and exploit them. So, you really don’t have trust from strangers. You don’t trust strangers, you don’t inherently trust them. So, it has to be someone you know, someone that already knows your vulnerabilities. And, we just want to really make people aware that this is happening within the community from other community members. And, in fact, 40 percent of those traffickers were actually someone’s family member. So, parent, uncle, aunt, sister, whoever."
Red flags to be aware of in regard to youth and trafficking include:
- Multiple social media accounts
- Abnormal social isolation
- Evasive answers about where they live or who they live with or where they work
- Multiple ER visits
- Unusual anxiety or paranoia
- Unexplained cash or high end items
According to Covenant Houe Pennsylvania, especially vulnerable youths:
- One in five homeless youth have been victims of trafficking
- 60 percent of homeless transgender youth report being victims
- Youth in foster care or involved in criminal justice system
- Youth of color
- Those who identify as LGBTQIA
Anyone at any time can call the hotline. It’s staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it is anonymous. Covenant House Pennsylvania has many resources on their website, as well.
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