A Note from Lifeway Girls: This is definitely one of the more serious blog posts we have shared with you, but we think that it is vital for you as mentors, moms, and leaders to be educated on the risks of human trafficking—especially for our teen girls. Chrissy Duke is in the fight daily against the exploitation of the vulnerable with Beauty for Ashes Africa, so we knew she would be the perfect person to address this sensitive subject. Our hope is that you will walk away being more aware of the risks of human trafficking and more willing to advocate for the vulnerable.
Human trafficking is a global issue, it is happening in every single country in the world—not one is immune. Because of the demand to dehumanize and exploit people, we find ourselves in a global crisis where slavery is coming to the doorsteps of our children’s schools right here in the U.S.
There is a lot of good information out there about human trafficking for anyone to become more educated and aware, because the more aware we are, the better we can prevent and fight! That said, I want to provide a few tidbits to help us conceptualize how human trafficking could be affecting the very girls we serve on a regular basis.
80% of all trafficking victims are women and children (UN TIP Report). Women, specifically ages 12-17, are statistically the most at-risk to human trafficking. That alone should send up some red flags for us. If human trafficking is happening in every country around the world, including the U.S., and young girls are the most vulnerable—is it likely that one or more of the girls we work with has experienced or is currently in a human trafficking situation? I know we all hope and pray it is not touching our girls. But, I would like to suggest, that it is very likely that many of us reading this blog have girls in our ministry affected by human trafficking. Let’s spend a minute figuring out the likelihood modern day slavery is interacting with your average teenage girl.
Let me start by introducing you to the traffickers—those that exploit and enslave people. Traffickers are men and women who seek out vulnerable people to exploit. They are friends, boyfriends, family members, internet trollers, and strangers, male or female. Traffickers are looking for one main thing that they can exploit: Vulnerability. What types of vulnerabilities are they looking for?
Traffickers often target children and youths with a history of:
- Sexual Abuse
- Dating Violence
- Low Self-esteem
- Minimal Social Support
- Lack of Personal Safety
- Emotional Distress
- Family Dysfunction
- Substance Abuse
- Mental Illness
- Developmental Delay
Do any of the girls you minister to fall into one or more of these categories? If they do, they are vulnerable.
Why do traffickers look for these vulnerabilities in children and teens? Because these factors cause a young person to look for a “savior” or a way out. Traffickers are skilled in appearing like a savior to a vulnerable teen. Using whichever vulnerability they find to convince the young teen that they are better off with their trafficker (more likely seen as a boyfriend, mentor, savior). For example, if one young girl has lack of self-esteem, a trafficker may approach by offering huge compliments, elevating the teen to a fantasy level of perfection, giving gifts, and offering unwavering affection. This type of manipulation continues for a few days, or weeks, while they “hook” their victim. Then the switch is flipped. Traffickers typically keep their victims hooked, through force, coercion, and fraud. These three methods keep teens from speaking out against their trafficker.
When noticing these risk factors (that we may see more often than we like) we cannot make the immediate assumption it means they are being targeted for human trafficking. But, it does give us some red flags to watch out for.
So, what does this mean for us as leaders, parents, and mentors?
We can be observers and ask intentional questions to our teen girls to find out if they are being trafficked. Things to look for are:
- An Inability to Attend School on a Regular Basis and/or Unexplained Absences
- Frequently Running Away from Home
- References made to Frequent Travel to Other Cities
- Bruises or Other Signs of Physical Trauma, Withdrawn Behavior, Depression, Anxiety, or Fear
- Lack of Control over a Personal Schedule and/or Identification or Travel Documents
- Hunger, Malnourishment, or Inappropriate Dress (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
- Signs of Drug Addiction
- Coached or Rehearsed Responses to Questions
- Uncharacteristic Promiscuity and/or References to Sexual Situations or Terminology Beyond Age-Specific Norms
- A “Boyfriend” or “Girlfriend” who is Noticeably Older and/or Controlling
It also does not have to be complicated or covert. You can ask simple questions like—“Are you safe?” or “Do you feel safe?”
We can also begin to educate our teens about their own vulnerabilities and educate them on the traffickers’ traps and what to look for. One of the most important things we can do is to involve our teens in the fight against human trafficking.
Jesus came to set us free, freedom is something everyone understands and we can use the gospel to involve our teens in practical and current social justice issues. This moves our teen girls from a victim to an abolitionist. This gives them ownership of understanding the risks, and working to save others from such horrors. This gives them a platform, a purpose, and a way out of their own vulnerability. The good news is our girls don’t have to stay at-risk. The very thing which threatens them, human trafficking, can be the very thing that reduces their vulnerability by giving them something outside of themselves that they can fight for!
Sources and other Suggested Resources:
- TIP Report
- Human Trafficking in America’s Schools
- Nefarious: Merchant of Souls (Movie)
- Not For Sale (Movie)
- The Dark Side of Chocolate (Movie)
- Half The Sky (Book)
- The Slave Across the Street: A True Story of How an American Teen Survived the World of Human Trafficking (Book)
- Tattoos From The Heart (Book)
Chrissy Duke is a passionate follower of Jesus Christ who loves to share what God is speaking to her with other young girls and women! She is also a wife and a mother of two beautiful girls. Chrissy love a good cup of coffee in the morning, getting outside in nature, and being with family. Her calling is to help the marginalized be recognized, heard, and helped. Chrissy does this primarily through an organization called Beauty For Ashes Africa. They work to combat human trafficking in North Africa, where they have a transition home for at-risk girls!