A message to teens: 10 tips for prevention against traffickers

By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times

Group of Teens

WASHINGTON, DC, July 26, 2012 – This column is for the tweens and teens out there. Parents should show it to them. Print it out, stick it in their school books, or post it to their mirrors.

There are ways to protect yourself, or your child, from becoming a victim of a sex trafficker. Familiarize yourself with the following ten tips; share them with friends.

Parents, review these with your child and be aware so that if something changes in your teen’s life, you can catch your child before he or she becomes a statistic.

1.  Become media literate.  If you don’t know what “media literacy” means, I encourage you to research the topic. It is important that you understand how business enterprises are sending you distorted messages via the media in order to make a profit from selling you their products.

These messages include: You aren’t pretty unless you buy this, you aren’t cool unless you own this, being pretty or cool is more important than anything else, etc. Traffickers understand what popular culture is telling you; educate yourself in order to be armed against predators.  Start with Nicole Clark’s documentary, Cover Girl Culture, or Adriana Barbaro and Jeremy Earp’s documentary, Consuming Kids: the Commercialism of Childhood.

For more resources on media literacy, please visit my personal blog.

2.  Learn different coping skills.  Life in middle school is tough.  I know this because I was there; I struggled with the same issues as most teens today- bullying, teen pregnancy, poor self-image, etc.

It doesn’t have to feel so stressful all the time, though. I encourage you to explore ways to cope with stress. Coping strategies can include meditation, prayer, exercise, yoga, martial arts, writing, reading, music, sports, crafting, collecting, etc. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and please ask for help from teachers or family members if you need assistance with starting one of these activities.

A book that helped me with coping strategies was The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

3.  Stay involved in extracurricular activities. It is crucial to do well in school and to stay involved in extracurricular activities. Try out for different sports, clubs, or programs.

I promise that good grades and a busy schedule are the most effective ways to overcome middle school troubles and to graduate as quickly and successfully as possible.

Trust me on this- I tried running away from middle school. That route was worse than if I had just stuck things out at school.

4.  Don’t be afraid to try new things. If you have an aunt that offers to take you to the ballet, say yes!  If an uncle offers to take you to a sports game, take him up on it! Try new things! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone or away from your friends.

I was very afraid to try new things without my friends- the result?  When my friends inevitably began to try new things without me, I felt very isolated and alone. This is part of the reason a trafficker was able to lure me away from home.

5.  Volunteer. Volunteering can help you keep things in focus while in middle and high school. There are many different ways to volunteer- from serving food at a soup kitchen to walking dogs at an animal shelter.

Check out www.volunteermatch.org or www.idealist.org to find cool places to volunteer!  A healthy perspective on one’s own life will prevent attempted distortion by a stranger.

6.  Learn to say NO. Our society is saturated with images of sex, and most images of women in the media are sexualized. This teaches young girls that sex appeal equals value. This turns into a domino effect; over-sexualized girls are magnets for older, opportunistic boys or men who will push to have their expectations met.

Despite seeing and hearing about sex on a daily basis, please know that you have the right to say NO to anyone at any time, no matter what. Saying no does not make you less worthy in any way whatsoever.  YOU own your body.  NOBODY has the right to touch you- no matter what, no matter when, and no matter how far things have gone with a person in the past.

And, guys- it’s ok to wait to have sex. Despite what you see and hear on a daily basis from television and from peers, it’s cooler to wait. Respect yourself and your partner.

Traffickers look for teens who lack assertiveness. Stand up for yourself! Say NO!

7.  Ask questions about sex. Please know that positive sexual health is not accurately portrayed in movies, music lyrics, music videos, or magazines. These are often very negative and inaccurate depictions of romance and love.

Take your time. Rushing to have sex can have disastrous effects.

8.  Seek Counseling! It is not normal to feel overly sad, angry, hopeless, or empty.  Even though so many movie characters and musicians display this exact personality as being cool or normal, it is not ok for you to feel this way. You deserve to feel happy and safe.

Please confide in a teacher or family member if you are having these feelings.  Or, call the Boys Town National Hotline, a crisis hotline for both boys and girls, at 1-800-448-3000.

9.  Understand how child trafficking works. Traffickers hang out in the same places you do: malls, skating rinks, bus stations, online, etc. Traffickers do not typically look like sketchy characters- they are often young and well-dressed.  Traffickers will offer to buy you trendy clothes, shoes, cars, or other expensive items.

Traffickers will ask for your phone number; they will ask to see or speak to you alone. Traffickers will tell you how pretty and mature you are, and they may mention knowing celebrities, exotic dancers, models, and porn stars. Traffickers will offer to help you make a lot of money or may offer to help you run away.

Know this- NO stranger (man or woman) has good intentions if they offer to help you run away. NO stranger (man or woman) has anything but personal gain in mind if they offer to help you make money. No matter how cool, how hip, or how fun and friendly they may seem- they mean to harm you.

Seek help from a trusted family member or teacher.

10.  Raise awareness! Start a school club to promote awareness for media literacy or human trafficking. You belong to the next generation of advocates who must stand up for your rights and the rights of others. Your voice can make a difference.

Believe in yourself and all that you can accomplish!

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