The “Silent Crime” reaches everywhere
Like many of the things we avoid talking about, the prevention of something horrible rests in our willingness to do just that, especially with our children. Jan Edwards, author and founder of the organization Paving the Way encourages parents to skip striking fear, and to teach children to recognize manipulative behaviors to keep themselves safe.. “It is challenging, and that’s one of the reasons why they call it a silent crime, is people don’t really want to talk about it, because it’s uncomfortable. “ Jan was talking to me about human trafficking, particularly of minors, for whom the average victim’s age is twelve. I asked her how she became involved in fighting this hidden billion dollar industry, which most of us would like to believe is distant from our homes. Jan Edwards,“I travelled to Ethiopia a few years ago, and that’s really where my eyes were opened not only to human trafficking and child trafficking, in particular, also child soldiers.”
While Jan described how widespread human trafficking is, in what are considered mostly developing countries, she said when she came home and began to research the problem, she was shocked to learn how prevalent it is in the US. In addition to local law enforcement, many cases are reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but estimates on numbers of victims range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands annually. “California is number one. Texas is number two. Florida is number three; Ohio is number four, and New York is number five.” Jan also included when I asked, that Virginia and Maryland combined would come in at number four alongside Ohio. She explained how regardless of where a perpetrator may first connect with a victim, often the traffic patterns follow the larger Interstate highways. One child her organization helped tracked was reported missing in North-western Arkansas, and was fortunately recovered in Nebraska. Jan continued. “So here’s what I’m going to say about rural America. You are equally as susceptible to this as some one in the big city. And let me share with you how that’s happening to your children: it’s via social media.” Jan described how some one who completely unfamiliar with a child can learn so much about them. Middle Schoolers and teens alike may swing from feeling attended to and accepted, to the opposite extreme. “They feel left out and alone. And that’s what these people look for on line. They look for these children that are venting on line. And parents have no idea, because they’re not involved in social media. So that’s one of the first things I suggest to almost every parent to sit down and have a dialogue with your teenager, and find out what social media platforms they’re on.” While she says the best first defense is for young people to feel secure discussing their online contacts with caregivers, Jan also encourages parents to use technology as needed to make sure they are safe. “There are several applications you can actually put on your child’s phone, or your child’s lap top that will track their interactions with other people on social media, and what websites they go to.“ Because predators may court an isolated young person for up to nine months, Jan teaches parents and caregivers to recognize when a child needs help. “The things to look for from a parent point of view is: Is your child starting to spend far more time inside their room online than they ever did before? Are they more secretive about stuff? Do they have a whole new set of friends, or have their friends completely gone away, and they only spend time with one particular person? Do they have gifts that you know you didn’t purchase? Like you know you didn’t get them the new Iphone 8. Why do they have the new Iphone 8?” While these are often clear signs of other troubles, they should alert adults to a need to intervene quickly. In part two of this story Jan points us to resources for prevention of this “Silent Crime”.