At an upscale department store, a teen peruses a designer bag. Her dad recently lost his job, so wistfully she places it back on the shelf.
A charming man appears; his words drip with honey: “A beautiful purse for a beautiful lady. Let me buy it for you.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t,” she says.
“You should be a model,” he insists. “Here’s my card.”
According to Opal Singleton, president and CEO of Million Kids and author of Seduced: The Grooming of America’s Teenagers, such encounters often mark the beginning of a grooming process.
“It’s as though some kids wear a billboard that makes them easy prey.” A family crisis such as a parent’s divorce, unemployment, or even a beloved grandparent’s death can make a young teen especially vulnerable.
Traffickers offer gifts, romance, and a sense of family to ensnare kids in crisis. Christian leaders who recognize the techniques, psychology, and methods used to cultivate these relationships can identify kids at risk and take preventive steps to make them feel valued and keep them safe.
Grooming takes place:
- using electronic devices. Cell phones and online chat rooms offer easy access.
- with runaways. Survival sex (exchanging one’s body for basic needs, including clothing, food, and shelter) leads to rape, beatings, and forced prostitution.
- with promises of easy money. Casual sex can be lucrative—for the pimps.
- using shame. Traffickers create emotional bonds and mental prisons.
“Churches can make a substantial difference,” says Singleton. Informed Christian leaders can increase awareness about how exploitation works and intervene before it’s too late.
If you suspect trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Trained hotline volunteers ask questions to determine whether a specific scenario warrants involving the local police. If it does, they’ll notify the appropriate authorities.
Learn how to identify and respond to those being exploited. “Recognize the Signs” is a helpful overview posted by the nonprofit Polaris anti-trafficking organization at PolarisProject.org/recognize-signs.