Do you remember Stranger Danger? The term “Stranger Danger” arose in various campaigns in the 1960’s. The campaigns had limited success and were later criticized for confusing children into believing that only strangers were a threat and that all people they knew were safe. Stranger Danger has been taught by many schools, police, youth groups, and parents.
The campaigns were later criticized for not creating a holistic conversation around the complexity of child abuse and with the knowledge we have now, we aim to teach our children not only Stranger Danger but also the warning signs from people we know. Unfortunately, Stranger Danger taught children about a boogeyman figure wearing a long black trench coat in a white van but forgot to teach them that sometimes the monsters are someone close to them.
RAINN estimates that 80% of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim and not a stranger at all. It also estimates that 55% of rapes occur at or near the victim’s home and 12% near or at a relative’s home.
We have a narrative for sexual assault that feels comfortable to us and it looks a lot like Stranger Danger. It is a “boogey man” in the shrub as a woman walks home alone, who assaults her at gun point and runs away once the crime has been committed.
However, anyone who works with victims of sexual violence will quickly tell you that this picture in our mind is not what it typically looks like. Believing and sharing this false narrative is dangerous as it can keep victims from coming forward.
The truth is much more terrifying.
Often the perpetrator is known to the victim, and varying factors such as if the victim was drinking or what they were wearing, may keep them from being believed. Sometimes sexual assaults happen within relationships and it almost always happens somewhere the victim feels safe as opposed to a random public place like the picture in our mind. And maybe most importantly, for a lot of survivors, once the crime has been committed their perpetrator does not run away- but instead remains a part of their life and blackmails or grooms them into silence.
Save the Children has the potential to become the next Stranger Danger.
I’m sure you’ve seen the hashtags, the media buzz, the social media posts. The campaigns boomed shortly after the Wayfair conspiracy surfaced. In case you’re unfamiliar, in July of 2020, many social media users saw posts alleging that high-priced furniture and other products with human names on Wayfair’s website was a cover for selling and trafficking missing children through the retailer’s website. Though there was no evidence that these claims were true and were later proven to be untrue, the theory exploded and created a lot of buzz around the words “human trafficking”. The news could not keep up with social media and these rumors are still being circulated today.
Because of the popularity of stories like this- if we are not careful, we will yet again create a false sense of security around our children as we accidentally teach them untrue narratives and leave out some of the most important parts of human trafficking prevention.
Like sexual assault, we generally have a picture in our mind of what human trafficking looks like that is mostly untrue. When we think of human trafficking, we often think of kidnapping and pedophilia. We think of a child being taken and thrown into a backseat of a car, to later be chained in someone’s basement and sold for sex.
Though human trafficking can look like this, it often does not. Human trafficking is a complex issue with multiple factors that are often not discussed. Holding onto and sharing these false stories of what human trafficking looks like will keep this movement from moving forward and will certainly keep victims from feeling safe to report. If you are passionate about human trafficking, it is imperative that you familiarize yourself with some of the common misconceptions regarding it-
Myth: Human trafficking, kidnapping, and pedophilia are interchangeable terms
Reality: Though transportation may be used as means to control or keep a victim vulnerable, it is not a required element for the situation to be classified as human trafficking. And though some sex trafficking victims are children, the 2019 National Human Trafficking Hotline received 3X more adult cases than minor.
Myth: Human trafficking only happens to young girls
Reality: Human trafficking happens to people of all genders and ages. Perpetrators also can be anyone of any gender or age.
Myth: Human trafficking is forced confinement or bondage
Reality: Human trafficking does not require physical force, confinement, or bondage. Psychological means of control are primarily used on victims of human trafficking.
The Polaris Project says “most often, children are lured into sex trafficking by people they trust, not by strangers” and that “sex traffickers groom or seduce children into commercial sex, not kidnap them”. They estimate that the top recruitment tactics are intimate partner or marriage propositions, familial, and job offers with risk factors like substance use, being a runaway or homeless, or recent relocation making children and adults alike the most vulnerable.
Human trafficking usually begins with a process called “grooming”. Grooming is when a perpetrator gains trust and information from the victim, fills a need the victim has, isolates them from their support system, and then begins abuse. This can happen over a month or several years, but this process helps create compliance from a victim.
Traffickers are experts at their job. They know if they kidnap a victim and force them to do these acts against their will, they will always try to run away. However, if they can gain the trust of a victim and even build a relationship with them, they are much more likely to comply.
Sex trafficking often looks like a victim who was offered a better life or love from someone they know and then slowly groomed or tricked into commercial sex in return.
If we want to keep our children safe, here are some tips:
- Set a high standard of “love” within your home
- Talk to your children about sexual abuse and human trafficking
- Talk to your children about the dangers of social media
- Communicate with your kids and let them talk to you without judgment
- Know your kid’s friends
- Get your child involved with empowering and supportive youth programs
- Provide practical safety tips such as not sharing personal information on the internet
There are limitless resources and material regarding the warning signs of human trafficking- each varying depending on the situation. One of my favorite quotes by the Polaris Project is simply this, “it’s not knowing the signs. It’s knowing the story”.
The only way we can truly keep our children and ourselves safe from something like human trafficking is to know the story, the true story of human trafficking and to educate ourselves, family, and friends on this reality.
Resources to check out if you’d like to learn more:
About the Author: Ashley Jourdan
806 Acts Outreach Coordinator
Ashley made Amarillo her home in 2015 and joined the FSS team in 2016. She currently serves as the 806 Outreach Coordinator, which provides human trafficking education and coordination to 10 counties in the Texas Panhandle. Ashley previously served as the FSS Youth Advisory Committee Coordinator. Ashley has always been an activist against sexual assault but first became an advocate in the fight against human trafficking in the spring of 2015 when she was introduced to an organization based in Thailand that combats adult and minor sexual exploitation.
Along with her job facilitating public education, coalition building, and victim advocacy, she has also with youth from at-risk areas as they advise Family Support Services on the issues that affect them most and offer input on how our agency can best serve them. Ashley has also overseen a program called GIRLS that aims to end girl on girl bullying by means of empowerment, discussions on comparison and beauty standards, and activities that show we are more alike than different.
Ashley loves to write about most social matters but especially on topics like trafficking, sexual assault, and feminism. She enjoys live music, poetry, and traveling. In her spare time, you can usually find her snuggled on the couch with her two dogs binge-watching The Office.