By Lauren Galley
Have you ever met a cute and charming guy at the mall or at a football game, or found yourself answering a text from someone you randomly met–and suddenly got “weird” vibes? If so, it is very possible you were targeted for human trafficking. Being a teen, I know how easy it is to say “It will never happen to me,” but if you are a young female living in the Houston area, it is extremely important to be aware of your surroundings. This does not mean you need to live in fear. As long as you educate yourself and take the necessary precautions, you should be safe from sketchy strangers (especially the ones you would never expect, like the good-looking ones.)
Traffickers use a variety of means to carry out their mission. One of their targets is young girls with low economic status. These parents oftentimes are working more than one job, leaving their children for extended lengths of time without proper supervision. Another method is outright kidnapping and luring girls into a dangerous situation. Traffickers use a variety of tactics which vary from affection and love, to something as simple as food, or finding a lost pet.
Human trafficking is growing and changing due to the advancements of technology, in particular, social media. It takes less than a minute to create a fake Facebook page and lure a young, vulnerable girl. This is why it is essential that young people are using the Internet and social media in a safe way. Easy tips such as turning your location services OFF, putting your profile on PRIVATE, and not accepting friend requests or replying to messages unless you personally know the person, can add increased safety from online predators. Do not add people you met at the mall for five minutes. Even if you don’t think you post very often, the few things you have posted can reveal a lot about you as a person. These little pieces of information are perfect for a trafficker to discover where you live, the type of people you associate with, your goals and dreams in life… Everything they need to lure you in as their slave. It’s okay to use social media, just do it in a safe way.
Through my organization, Girls Above Society, I speak of the necessity of cultivating self-esteem as a young teenager. As a teen myself, I have found being confident gives me the ability to not rely on others for self-validation. Traffickers prey on insecure girls, so if we can instill some self-worth in the youth of today, I truly believe the number of girls being sold for sex will decrease. I know that if a man approached me and told me he had the connections to make my book appear on the New York Times Bestsellers List (a dream of mine), my first reaction would be suspicion. I would not get excited or even trust him until I did background research and consulted my family about the situation. However, I have an incredibly strong support system, and my parents instilled self-confidence in me from a very young age. Unfortunately, not all girls are blessed with this support system, so it is important that we as individuals help to instill confidence and empower the lives of teenage girls. We all have a young girl in their lives, whether it’s your friend, daughter, or niece… Take the time out of your day to educate her and make her feel worthy so that we, as a society, can limit the predators’ ability to engage in trafficking.
Parents! More and more of these local traffickers are young and charming guys that know exactly what to say in order to make a girl fall in love with him. Many times these traffickers take the time to get very close by becoming a boyfriend. Always make sure you meet your child’s boyfriend, and if you sense something strange or suspect odd behavior, be sure to investigate and TELL HER. You might be the bad guy at first, but by planting the seed of “Maybe he’s not the best guy,” and by providing specific examples of shady behavior, you are teaching her what to look for in a man. These simple lessons will prevent her from being so easily manipulated. Also, be knowledgeable about who she talks with online and on social media. My mom has always known my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter passwords for safety reasons, not because she is invading my privacy. At first I remember feeling weird about giving up that information, but she said if I couldn’t give her my password then I couldn’t have a phone, so, of course, I complied. I have never had anything secret online, but I know if she ever suspected something strange or I went missing, she would have access to the people I talk with and could potentially save my life.
Internet safety and confidence are two very important pieces to the puzzle, but one must not forget to be aware of their surroundings and follow basic safety tips. When I first got my license, I never thought about checking under my car, or paying attention to the car behind me and how long they had been following me. I was just having fun and focusing on where I was going. That all changed when a girl I went to high school with had a near-death experience that could have easily been avoided had she been aware of her surroundings. She left a friend’s house around 11:00 p.m., drove 30 minutes home, and the moment she put her car in park she felt a knife on her neck. A young man, who she said looked in his early 20’s, had been in her backseat the entire time. He stole all her belongings, including her car, and cut her neck badly enough that she had to be rushed to the hospital. This story really hit home with me because she lived near my house, in a nice neighborhood, and her family would not be considered low economic status by any means. I’m not telling this story to scare anyone, I’m simply sharing it because I learned a huge lesson from it… Do not EVER say “It won’t happen to me.” From now on, especially at night, I check my back seat, under my car and I scan the area for any suspicious activity. It’s like the old saying goes.. “It’s better to be safe than sorry!”
Exploitations of a victim’s shame or low self-esteem is one of the biggest strategies traffickers will use to lure young girls to fall for their tricks. I cannot stress the idea of instilling confidence in girls starting at a very young age. Honestly, the younger they get this idea through their head, the better. Confidence will not only help to prevent themselves from being targeted by a trafficker, but will also serve as the foundation for a much more positive and happy lifestyle. Instead of relying on others for my happiness or self-worth I have always relied on myself. This has prevented me from reaching out to charming strangers who could be potentially dangerous. Instead, I stick with my group of friends, and if I happen to meet a guy somewhere I ALWAYS make sure he meets my family and friends. If he’s not okay with that, then he doesn’t need to be spending any time with me!
Not everyone is born into a happy and functional family, and this is one of the main causes of girls becoming victims. If you or anyone you know is thinking of running away from home, is currently on the streets, or feels they may have been approached or are being stalked by a trafficker, PLEASE seek out your local organizations and shelters for help. There is no shame in needing assistance and a simple call for help can save a life.
Be Confident. Be Educated. STAY SAFE!