I tend to ignore most conspiracy theories. I believe if you don’t pay them any attention, they will eventually fade into obscurity where they belong. But I’m incensed by the recent, lingering conspiracy theories surrounding child trafficking and pedophilia. By focusing attention in the wrong direction, these lies actually hurt legitimate child abuse prevention and hamper the work of agencies who serve survivors of all ages. As a survivor myself, and a leader with more than 25 years of experience in this field, I’m here to assure you that the greatest sexual abuse and trafficking threats for children are rarely posed by strangers, but instead exist in our families, friendships and communities.
Despite what you may have been told, the majority of children who are abused and trafficked, are done so by men familiar to them. The first abusers in their lives are not just "johns," they are Uncle John, Pastor John, and Boyfriend John. These children know their abusers. They’re being commoditized by men they know and trust.
My colleague, Marissa Brownell, a Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors Specialist, at End Slavery TN, echoes my sentiments in her recent blog post: “For the past 10 years, I have been working with young women and minors who have been victims of human trafficking...However,
Not one was targeted and kidnapped from a Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Target or IKEA.
Not one was run off the road by other cars and ambushed by traffickers.
Not one was approached on the street and pulled into a creepy white van.
Not one was part of a secret political trafficking ring.”
These are the types of rumors wreaking havoc on social media.
In 2019, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children assisted law enforcement and families with more than 29,000 cases of missing children. Less than 1% of those 29,000 cases were non-family abductions. This means that 28,710 of the reported abductions were by family members. This is where we place our focus.
The seriousness of trafficking is certainly not in question. Once a child is abused, a cycle of self-destruction often begins: addiction to numb the pain, social isolation, behavioral issues, ostracization from their communities, and often incarceration. Deemed criminals and disposable by society, this vulnerable population is easily exploited into prostitution and child sexual abuse imagery by traffickers.
If we really want to #savethechildren, we must become vigilant in breaking the vicious cycle of abuse - and it starts by educating and strengthening our families and communities.
We begin in our homes, churches and schools by listening, observing and learning. As you can imagine, children often have a hard time coming forward to admit they’re being abused by a pastor, neighbor or mom’s boyfriend. They may lack the words and also sense that the adults around them will resist speaking about sexual abuse. We must pay attention and observe them in their surroundings. Children who have been abused often behave in self-destructive or defiant ways as it is the only way they are able to express their stress and pain.
We need to talk, preach and exercise practices that better protect vulnerable children. We must make these places safe for children by actively listening to them when they share their pain or fears.
Organizations providing direct services to survivors can also offer ways to stay informed and participate in their healing path. Thistle Farms, a nonprofit I founded over two decades ago, provides long-term residential care and jobs opportunities for women survivors. You can find additional service providers for trafficking victims across the country through our national network or by searching for reputable organizations in your area.
We can all make a difference by volunteering, reaching out to people in crisis, believing the stories of women who report abuse in their younger years, supporting the healing work of survivors with our dollars, and by countering the myths of trafficking with facts.
Scaring people with stories and numbers that misrepresent the truth does nothing to ‘save our children’. I urge you to resist spreading another conspiracy. Exaggerated stories and statistics fan the flames, while the real work needs your attention. Be smart, be grounded, be proactive and educate yourself on the truths of how sexual abuse and trafficking begins, and how it will end.