When I googled ‘Backpage,’ a short description appeared and it read: “Free classified ads with photos. Find houses and apts for rent, personals, jobs, cats and dogs for sale.” At first glance, it does not indicate that you may rent people at a price. Until recently I was not aware what Backpage was, I did not even know it existed. News reports have reminded me of the danger that the Internet can represent and promote. Backpage is recognized by The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) as a facilitator of child sex trafficking. Adult content ads were reportedly helping Backpage earn $100 million per year. The fact that these ads have grossed a large amount of money is not a surprise since human trafficking continues to be the 2nd largest criminal industry in the world. According to Unicef, the business of trading children and adults has made $32 billion in yearly profits.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimated that 95% of teens (ages 12-17) are online. Sex traffickers are using social media and the Internet to attract children and adults into their world. Traffickers tend to reach out to adolescents that are in need of attention. Often, young people post their personal problems online, and sexual exploiters take advantage of this. Traffickers look for individuals who are in a vulnerable state of mind and who may believe their dishonest intentions to help. With this knowledge, it is imperative that parents and guardians be vigilant of online predators and supportive of our youth.
Kids enjoy asking questions and especially of topics that are not easily discussed, like sex. For this reason, they may find it easy to look for answers on the Internet. Unfortunately, researching online may increase their chances of meeting someone who is only out to exploit them. Parents and guardians should receive these questions with an open mind and allow for meaningful conversations. Communication may protect your family from sex traffickers. Discussing the probable dangers of interacting with strangers online can prevent children from falling into traps that are strategically placed by sex traffickers.
According to The Ugly Truth, here are some ways of protecting yourself and your family when online:
- Don’t talk to unknown or unfamiliar people
- Don’t post any personal information (home address, cell phone number or your current location) on your social media accounts that you would not want strangers to see online
- Don’t believe claims by disguised perpetrators that they are photographers, producers, and others who will make you rich and famous
- Don’t accept invitations to “parties” of anyone you do not know and trust
- Don’t be lured by lines commonly used to recruit people, like: “You’re pretty. You could make some money.” or “I’m here for you.”
If your child or someone you know appears to be connecting with an online predator but you are unsure, here are some signs that the NCMEC asks to look out for.
- He/she is withdrawn and isolated from family and friends
- You find inappropriate material on their computer
- He/she is receiving mail, money, or gifts from unknown people
How can we help combat the power of online predators?
If you feel that something is not right and suspect a case of sex trafficking, please contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or visit www.cybertipline.com to make a report.
Have you been contacted by a potential sex trafficker? The NCMEC suggests saving all texts and messages that incriminate the perpetrator and reporting them to the website above, your cell phone service provider, or law enforcement.
Together, we can help the fight against sex trafficking.
Contributing Writer, Two Wings