“Are you doing enough to protect your children from the dangers of human trafficking?”
Stephanie Olson, the CEO and president of the Set Me Free Project in Omaha, asked parents this question when she spoke at Neligh-Oakdale School last week.
Olson and other speakers from the organization spoke throughout the day to students and parents. Kenzie Rudolf of Neligh contacted them as part of her FCCLA STAR project.
Thursday night’s presentation was directed at parents and how they can help keep their children safe in a digital world.
Olson said their mission is to educate youth and families so human traffickers lose their power.
She said human trafficking is done for sex, labor, infants, organ harvesting, child soldiers and seniors. Olson said sometimes infants and seniors are even sold for sexual purposes.
“It is an evil, twisted industry,” she said.
Olson said human trafficking is a global, multi-billion dollar industry that primarily targets children ages 11-19.
“It’s a myth that girls are the only targets,” she said. “Boys are almost equally as victimized.”
The traffickers themselves aren’t solely men either, Olson said. In fact, 42 percent of the traffickers recruiting victims are women.
Awareness is important, but prevention is the key, she said.
“Only 1 to 2 percent are rescued,” Olson said. “So, why don’t we stop it before it starts?”
She said there are six stages of grooming: targeting the victim, gaining the victim’s trust, filling a need, isolating the child, sexualizing the relationship, and maintaining control.
Olson said it’s easiest to save children who are still in one the first three stages.
If you suspect a child is in danger, she said there are many red flags to look for, including excess cash; expensive gifts; abrupt change in habits, mood, behavior, speech or apparel; presence of an older “boyfriend” or “girlfriend;” frequent absence from class or work; tattoos (especially hidden or barcodes used as “branding”); hotel keys; lying about age; inconsistencies when recounting events; sexually explicit profiles on social media; signs of physical abuse; and pre-paid cell phones.
Olson said kids who run away are at the greatest risk for sex trafficking. She said traffickers are really good at spotting runaways and often approach them within the first 48 hours, luring them in with promises of food and a place to sleep.
Other high-risk behaviors are drug and alcohol use, gang activity, and social media.
“One of the biggest ways traffickers are getting to kids today is through social media and online gaming,” she said.
Olson encouraged parents to be aware who their children are speaking with on social media and online gaming because adults often pose as children to gain their trust.
She showed video footage of a man posing as a teenage boy to lure girls. All of the trusting girls left their homes to meet him. Fortunately, it was done as a test, and none of the girls were taken. Another video showed how easily someone could track people with their location settings and use social media to find out their name and personal information.
Olson said strict privacy settings and only accepting personal friends on social media sites are great ways to keep kids safe. She invited parents to use apps of their own, such as Life360. The app can be downloaded to a phone and used to track kid’s locations and driving details.
For more information, contact Set Me Free Project at www.setmefreeproject.net or 800-716-9853.
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