Nothing catches the attention of parents like news of a child abduction or assault in their community. For years, parents have been able to shrug off child sex trafficking as an issue in other parts of the world. Now, a mother wants to shake us all up. She wants to “traffick-proof every community.”
A MODERN EQUAL SOCIETY DOES NOT BUY AND SELL WOMEN AND CHILDREN
So reads the mission statement of Cathy Peters, a mother who is passionate about what she does. In the past five years this voluntary lone ranger has raised awareness about child sex trafficking at 190 city councils, with 87 MLAs, 41 MPs and 91 Canadian senators. She says without hesitation that “child sex trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world, Canada and here.” The crusader says that “the new pandemic… is hidden because the luring/buying of sex is occurring mainly online.”
Resources for enforcement are low, especially in BC, and while the 2014 Federal Law on “The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act” exists, the target is mainly the buyers of sex.
The picture she paints in her presentations to parents keeps attenders on the edge of their seats. Local girls of all ethnicities and social classes, who are 9-14 years of age, are the preferred choice of pedophiles and Aboriginal girls are wanted even younger. Peters states that “$360,000 per year per victim” is possible for a trafficker whose girls provide service for between “10-60 men per night 7 days a week.” “Sixty percent of prostituted women suffer full PTSD.”
Many children are lured through on-line friendships, through puppy trolling, through playground snatches. An astounding 97-99 percent of victims “who are lured, groomed, trapped, coerced, forced, kidnapped, tricked in to the sex trade industry” live with a “choiceless choice.”
Predators will start by paying extra attention to a target child – this can happen online through game portals, Facebook, Instagram, Kik, Pintrest, Tumblr etc. where parents aren’t necessarily aware of the attention. In person, they may purchase gifts or treats for the child. They will touch the child in front of their parent, making the child think that the touch from this person is okay. They will pretend to have the same likes and dislikes and pretend to be a good friend and a good listener. They will try to find ways to be alone with the child and share off-coloured jokes or pornography. Parents are then groomed so the individual can gain more access to the child through offers to babysit, etc.
Peters suggests that parents teach children about body safety at a young age – about grooming behaviours, about sharing when gifts are given by any adult, by warning them about listening to bad jokes or pictures, about sharing their feelings, about any adult who spends time alone with them. Education, openness and a lack of excessive overreaction will keep the channels of communication clear should anything be reported.
Peters claims that a public health crisis is underway with sex trafficking victims costing up to $48,000 a year from the repercussions of exploitation and abuse. Many of her presentations to high schoolers include UK police videos like “Kailey’s Love Story” and “Know the Signs – Emma’s Story.” Parents are encouraged to Google these tools.
Peters sees education and enforcement as critical to stemming the tide of destruction. She says children need to plan to be safe by saying ‘no’ to anything done in secret, to get help with any problems being faced, and to always tell. She encourages parents to trust their ‘gut’ if they sense things aren’t right with their child because of atypical behaviour patterns or intensity.
Parents should be alerted to a child who “seems more withdrawn, sad, anxious, defensive, angry or secretive,” if they are significantly changing how much time they spend online, if they don’t respond to limits, if they lose interest in previously embraced activities if the child is complaining of stomach aches or headaches or if sleeping patterns change significantly.
These traits don’t necessarily demonstrate harm already underway but they do signal a need for a higher level of awareness from parents and caregivers. Peters says that with the increase of violent sexual images online that “child on child predation/sexual assault is significantly on the increase.”
To keep a child safe online all social media platforms should be filtered and monitored. Open conversations about public images should be had early on. Social media should be on large screens and not on phones for children. In-person play times with friends should be encouraged instead of allowing screen time to be the main connection. No conversations with strangers. “Phones/computers not in bedrooms, bathrooms, and handed in at night.”
As the sun draws children outdoors into parks, playgrounds, campgrounds and holiday havens this is a good time to educate children on how to have fun and still be safe around strangers.
For resources, Peters suggests that parents look for resources from Children of the Street Society; OCTIP (The Office to Combat Trafficking in Person); Deborah’s Gate; The Canadian Centre for the Protection of Children (Manitoba); Joy Smith Foundation.
Peters began her journey into exposing child sex tourism 30 years ago but then the issue was linked to Cambodia. That’s where many of us still think the issue is. This child advocate wants us to know that the issue is right down the hall or just around the corner. If nothing else motivates parents to action then this one reality should make the difference.