When a youth is a runaway or homeless, one of the reasons may be the lack of a support system that allows the opportunities to make healthy decisions. Runaway and homeless youth often leave their home without having a plan, which makes the youth more vulnerable to traffickers.
According to a Justice Department estimate, within 48 hours of leaving home, a trafficker or pimp approaches one-third of runaway youth.
A trafficker may approach by pretending to want to help by offering food, shelter or clothing; the youth is lured to an apartment or hotel room. When the youth reaches the destination, the trafficker forces them to have sex with undisclosed people in exchange for said food, clothing or shelter.
A youth without proper support networks at home or school may turn to social media to find supportive people. Traffickers prey on youth looking for that support and say things that make the youth think life will be better with them. The traffickers will groom a youth through praise, promises of a better life, or expensive gifts. Traffickers look for youth that have a lower self-esteem, are victims of domestic violence or abuse, or are socially isolated. The youth is easily convinced to leave home to live with the trafficker who has promised them a better life. Upon arrival, however, the youth is forced into sex trafficking.
How can a youth protect themselves from online traffickers?
What can parents/teachers/friends of the youth do to help them feel supported at home? The Human Trafficking Freedom Coalition of Illinois has some great suggestions on ways to prevent this from happening.
- Install extra security on your computer and devices.
- Install anti-virus software
- Pop-up blockers
- Review privacy settings. Look at the privacy settings available on social networking sites, cell phones, and other social tools that children use. Decide together which settings provide the appropriate amount of protection for each child.
- Talk with the youth about critical thinking. Empower them to handle things. Support their good decisions. Actively engage with them.
- Help them be good “digital citizens.” Teach youth to respect the personal information of friends and family and to not share it with others.
Not only does this teach youth good internet safety but it may also provide the necessary support system to help keep a youth feeling safe and loved.
The Human Trafficking Freedom Coalition of Illinois also has a list of safety apps for parents to use that can help in keeping youth safe while online.
- Kids Place. This parental control app allows parents to customize their home screen to show only approved apps. It can also prevent youth from buying or downloading types of apps and can block incoming calls.
- SecureTeen. This app filters out most adult content. It also monitors children’s activities online and can shut down any app that the youth may have installed on a device.
- Kids Zone Parental Controls. This app allows parents to set a time limit on the use of a smartphone. It also blocks app installation and in-app purchasing.
Youth involved with trafficking can contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888) for assistance or NRS at 1-800-RUNAWAY for support.
The National Runaway Safeline can help a youth find shelter or contact a family member and help a youth to return home through the Home Free program.