Just imagine, as horrible as the thoughts may be, that you are a terrified 13-year-old girl, perhaps a runaway from a rough home environment, and you’ve been taken in by an older man who promises to treat you better. When the sexual activity begins, you don’t really understand it. But after a while, what you do understand is the threats that have now become part of your daily life: Do what I say or I will beat you. Do what this man visiting tells you to do. Go with this other girl to a strange house with strange men.
The nightmare is more common than we think. The top federal prosecutor in North Carolina’s Western District, Anne Tompkins, says, “Human trafficking is a national epidemic, and it is also happening here, in our communities, with many of the victims and perpetrators hiding in plain sight.”
People can keep an eye out for suspicious situations, such as older men hanging around with younger girls; for kids hanging around on their own or not going to school; and for comings and goings and the hours they see the young people around. They cannot hesitate to alert authorities.
Young people are vulnerable because their emotions can grow raw and lead them to be drawn to situations and people they’d be better off without. But whereas an adult would perceive danger, a teenager might not see it. And once in an exploitative situation, it is hard for someone 13 or 14 years old to know how to get out.
State and federal officials are hardly asleep when it comes to these crimes, but clearly outreach must be intensified and awareness raised. Young people who are vulnerable need to be aware that they can turn to authorities without fear and get the help they need. Parents of troubled kids also need to be on the lookout for signs that their children, even if they are somewhat estranged from them, could be falling into dangerous situations.
Learn more at the News & Observer article: Strong move on the vile and violent sex-trafficking industry.