The Role of Social Networks in Facilitating Sex Trafficking

It’s February of 2020, and I’m still reflective into this brand new decade. A noteworthy cultural shift that took place over the past decade is the role social media has taken, seamlessly inserting itself into our normal day-to-day routines. I’m at an age where I can remember when the internet and social media first came along. Unfortunately, along with the novelty of the world wide web and connecting with people on social networks, came a virtual playground for predators, and a real life collective headache for parents who wanted to protect their children from engaging with these predators online.


If you’re an adult who has engaged on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook over the last year, you’ve probably, like me, noticed a rise in the amount of sex-trafficking stories making headlines across these platforms, making it completely understandable that parents are fearful and concerned for the safety of their children.

But should social networks be considered a main culprit in helping sex traffickers find, lure, and exploit young innocent victims? I would argue that social networks are in essence, a double-edged sword when it comes to the subject of sex trafficking. While many young people are unfortunately targeted and manipulated through these platforms, we should also note that social media has assisted in saving lives of sex trafficking victims, and potential victims.


What is Sex-Trafficking?

Sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking/slavery where victims are involuntarily held, transported, and forced into labor providing sexual services for profit. These services include pornography, prostitution, or any sex act performed in exchange for basic human necessities like food, shelter, and clothing.


The Role of Social Media

According to Shared Hope International (www.sharedhope.org), social networks are among the leading methods by which predators use to engage, lure, and trap their victims. Predators have greater access to potential victims, and the luxury of anonymity makes it easier for predators to exploit the naivety of young people. As technology rapidly advances, parents are finding themselves scrambling to keep up with the novel ways predators are using technology to access children.


There is content available for every age group online. Parents often take steps to ensure their children do not engage with, or view content that is unsafe. These steps include monitoring who their kids follow, keeping their pages private and monitoring who follows them, and exercising the option to block users and sites that appear inappropriate for young people. However, smart and determined predators are able to utilize technology to their advantage, finding new ways to access potential victims. In addition to the common practices of predators lurking on pages frequented by young people, pretending to be young persons themselves, cases have been reported where predators go as far as to hack into children’s games and programs, leaving disturbing and predatory messages, and convincing young people to do dangerous things.


The Benefits of Social Media

While social networks might be deemed the devil by many parents who go to great lengths to keep their children off of these sites, we shouldn’t negate the benefits we’ve seen these networks provide, especially when it comes to spreading information and awareness. From information on abductions, survival tips, and cautionary tales other users have seen or experienced, valuable information is being passed along social networks in an effort to keep others safe.


I saw the following post being shared on social media a few times. This young woman shared her story on Twitter just after it happened (she’s noticeably still shaken up), where a Lyft driver attempted to abduct her and she was able to escape. Thanks to her sharing her story via Twitter, she was able to spread awareness on the potential dangers of ride-sharing, and people began to use more caution when using these services.


https://twitter.com/Niqki_Smith/status/1194401637487579137?s=20


The following post was shared on Twitter, informing people of a tactic used by sex traffic predators. The trap is to distract a person by messing up their car, and as they’re focused on cleaning off the car, the predator(s) move to abduct.


https://twitter.com/FavianIsDead/status/1231839717651468288


These are only two examples, among thousands of others that illustrate how social networking platforms aid in spreading awareness to the problem of sex trafficking. But don’t just be aware, be actively aware.


How You Can Use Social Media to Help:


  • If you see something, say something

  • Post and repost abduction information

  • Share any survival tips you come across


For more information on sex trafficking, visit:

www.sharedhope.org

www.defendinnocence.org

www.polarisproject.com

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