The Conversation You NEED to Have with Your Kids TODAY

It seems that at least once a week we see a Facebook post or a news story about a missing child, possibly trafficked from Houston and the surrounding area. As it shows up on your timeline or you see it on the news, it may be written off as a runway child. But, at some point, we need to start recognizing sex trafficking for what it is.

Sex Trafficking is modern day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Sex Trafficking is often portrayed by Hollywood as the kidnapping of a young American girl who is then sold into slavery in a foreign country, much like the movie Taken, but the reality is far more disturbing.

Using social media platforms, traffickers have become very methodical in targeting and grooming their victims. It may start out as a seemingly innocent friend request on a social media app such as kik, Instagram or Snapchat. Or it may present itself as an older girl or boy befriending your child at school looking for vulnerabilities such as loneliness, depression or isolation. John Clark, author of The 6-Step Recruiting Process and father of a sex trafficking survivor, provides us with the following steps of how traffickers recruit their victims::

  1. Befriend {To establish trust}

    PARENTS :: It is hard to recognize this step, but there are things you can monitor. Look for new friends, and be inquisitive about their parents, background, living arrangements, etc. If they are a new friend, find out who have they been hanging out with before your child. Dig into the new friend’s circle of friends by talking to other parents or the school. Go through pictures on your child’s phone, looking for new hangouts or hobbies. Changes that a new friend introduces should raise questions and investigation.

  1. Intoxicate {To introduce a source or increase the level of friction in the relationships at home}

    PARENTS :: Many kids experiment during this time of their lives. If you see or suspect any drug or alcohol use, deal with it early. Find out whether it was experimenting with good friends they have had for a while, or whether it is the result someone new on the scene. If is it someone new, I would be more concerned about a possible trafficking connection.

  1. Alienate {To drive a wedge between the teen and the family}

    PARENTS :: My advice is to try not to fight about the source {new friends} of the friction. Try to use firm reasoning and love as the basis for all discipline. Engaging in a fight or simply putting your foot down {i.e. “I am your father/mother, and you will do as I say!”} actually works to the advantage of the recruiters trying to drive a wedge between you and your child.

  1. Isolate {To separate them from old friends who share their core values}

    PARENTS :: Once the traffickers take the victim through step 4, your child is in REAL and IMMEDIATE DANGER! Consider intervention, or residential counseling away from their “friends”. Think about moving the child away to live with a relative in another state, or moving the whole family. It sounds drastic, but it is logical!

  1. Desensitize {To disorient the victims’ moral compass}

    PARENTS :: When things have reached this point, it is difficult to turn around but not impossible. Be looking for signs that your child is exposed to or participating in activities that are normally forbidden. If you haven’t already attempted intervention with a survivor or support organization, or if you haven’t removed the teen from the environment, you are running out of time…DO IT NOW!!!

  1. Capitalize {To take your child away from you through brainwashing, coercion, and/or kidnapping}

    PARENTS :: Know your options for recovery and support. Come up with an action plan to execute if your child disappears. Introduce yourself to the people and organizations you will need. Establish a code word that your child can use if they want out. They won’t want to hear it now, but they might remember it when they need it.

You can read more about the 6-step recruiting process from John Clark here.

The reality is, our children could be faced with this type of manipulation and targeting no matter how prestigious their school is, how good their grades are, or how much we try to shelter them. So, what are we as parents supposed to do? I wish I had a definitive black and white answer but the truth is I don’t. I do know that I will never been able to stay ahead of my children in their ability to navigate technology. However, I will be vigilant in knowing what apps and social media accounts and passwords they have as well as knowing who they are talking to both online and in school. But I think it is naive to believe that I will have complete transparency from my children regarding their online activity.

Open dialogue starting at an early age seems the next best option. And as much as I would love for my children to live without the knowledge that there are people in this world who would want to harm them, I would rather them be aware then kept in the dark. I am a 36-year-old Katy mom of an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl, and we have started talking about the “stranger dangers” of our current culture. We also need to be open to listening to our children without shame and judgement. We need our children to understand that they can and should come to us when something seems off, but they won’t know that something seems off unless we open the dialogue of what is appropriate in relationships, both online and in person. This includes learning how to react appropriately to our children when they tell us something that they may have done. If at 8 and 5 my children confess to something and I react in anger or in judgement, then I am teaching my children by my reaction to not be open with me.

As a parent, I often feel like I have no idea what I am doing, but I am doing the best I can. And in this battle for the innocence of our children in this oversexualized culture I know I will struggle and I will fail at times, but I will never give up.

Elijah Rising is a local organization that is fighting against sex trafficking in our city and suburbs. For more information on how you can get involved in the fight against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, please visit our website.  

About Vanessa F. 

Vanessa Forbes holds a B.A. in Psychology from Messiah College as well as an MBA from the University of St. Thomas. After 4 years in corporate America and 6 years as a stay at home mom, she now works full time as Intervention Coordinator for Elijah Rising, a non-profit committed to ending Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation. 


  1. What a scary reality! Thank you for sharing this and encouraging us as parents to know what’s going on. The best we can do is share with our kids early and often, stay as involved as we can in their lives and, as a Christian mom, I know the power of prayer is incredible! Can’t pray enough for our kids and their friends!


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