“...isolation from family and friends has grown as a key stressor, ranked even higher by military families than deployments.” - CNN
“...Sexual violence occurs anywhere children and teens gather on base — homes, schools, playgrounds, food courts, even a chapel bathroom. Many cases get lost in a dead zone of justice, with neither victim nor offender receiving help.”- PBS
“"This man [U.S. Air Force Colonel] not only deliberately sought out illicit content, he produced and distributed it. He made himself a participant in this cruel, abhorrent industry that exploits the most the vulnerable in our society – our children." - Newsweek
These headlines break me. As a military spouse, mother of two, and fierce defender of the vulnerable, I want better for our military community. Like you, I get to PCS every few years, deal with work ups and deployments, watch my kiddos move schools, and handle a thousand spinning plates. I also helped found and run an anti-sex trafficking organization called Safe House Project. Safe House Project works to serve and empower survivors of child sex trafficking.
I consistently get asked, what called you into your work? Well, it is quite simple. As a military family moving around the country and the world, we have been exposed to the darkest parts of humanity. Sadly, this is not an issue that has woven its way into the fabric of America, and honestly, our children are some of the most vulnerable.
Child sex trafficking is rarely abduction, most cases of child sex trafficking in America involve a trust relationship. Meaning a family member, a boyfriend, a peer, a coach, a pastor, a friend’s parents. 66% of traffickers are the person, you would hope that you could trust. A trafficking relationship usually starts off as an unhealthy relationship and escalates into a trafficking situation. The trafficker creates a trust bond with the child, making him or her feel loved, seen, and valued, while simultaneously isolating the child from friends and family. The first request will seem benign to a child who loves that person, like send me a nude photo. Yes, that is not as benign as most of us would hope, but kids are asked for nude photos by peers every day (check your kid’s phone). Then the blackmail starts, and the requests escalate, and before the child even realizes it, they are being trafficked.
This all begs the question of which kids are more vulnerable to trafficking. Of course, a large percentage of children that are trafficked are foster children, runaways, and disconnected youth, but you still have around 66% of children who are living at home when their trafficking situation begins. Vulnerable kids are usually those who move a lot (check), have a single parent household or a parent that travels (or deploys) a lot (check), don’t have people who really know them in the community (check), lack self-confidence, or who are constantly attention seeking.
Now overlay these vulnerabilities that a lot of kids have with the introduction of the wrong person placed into their world, and it becomes a dangerous situation for our kids.
Recently, we had a survivor come into care who has been trafficked by her father for 15 years. They have been stationed all over the world, and she has been sold to so many of our military service members, but other kids have also walked through the doors of her parent’s home.
5 Tips for Military Families:
Vet your babysitters when you move to a new duty station. I understand you need help quickly, family isn’t nearby, and you just need a night out, but take the time to make sure that your kids feel comfortable with the new sitter. Maybe even go so far as to run a background check or call a few referrals.
Have an honest dialogue with your child that not everyone, even those in uniform, are always safe people. If they ever feel uncomfortable, are asked for something, or are pressured into doing something, encourage them to speak up.
The best part of the military is that it takes a village to raise our kids, and we have to stand in the gap for one another, so take the time to really get to know the parents that your kids spend time with, and ensure that you feel comfortable with them.
Monitor your kids phone. A great app that we recommend that cannot be uninstalled from a child’s phone and is Bark. Take a quick look at this video done by Bark of a mom going undercover as an 11 year old girl.
Download eBodyGuard to your child’s phone. It is a safety app that will start recording on voice command within 30 feet, and any recording done by the app IS admissible in court, so it takes away the “He said/She said” argument, as well as calls 911.
To learn more about child sex trafficking in America, and how you can help prevent, spot, and report it, we encourage you to learn more at www.SafeHouseProject.org. We cannot stop what we don’t understand, and ultimately, a child’s freedom requires our action.
Thank you for helping us protect the children of our American heroes, so they can focus on the job at hand.