Boys and girls as young as 11 years old are the victims of sex trafficking on Phoenix streets. Some of these children are runaways or abducted by traffickers, but other children come from stable families. They are groomed by sex traffickers and lured into the life of prostitution.
Grooming is the processes of befriending and building trust with a child or sometimes the family of a child. The trafficker will take a special interest in the child to create a relationship. This relationship could be that of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, a mentor or a friend.
Parents should watch for the following signs that their child is being groomed.
1. Money and Clothes
The grooming process often involves money, clothing or other expensive items like cell phones. These gifts will make the child feel special and could make them feel indebted. In time, they can create reliance as they become to rely on this person to meet their needs.
2. New Friends
Making new friends is a great idea, but if these friends are older or more independent—it may be a warning sign. Traffickers will often lie about their age or use teens as recruiters. If your teen starts spending time with a new boyfriend or a new group of friends, ask questions. Knowing who your child is with and what they are doing is important for their safety.
3. Unexpected Absences
If your teen was missing you would call police, but there are other instances that should get your attention. Skipping school, missing curfew or unexplainable absences should cause you to ask questions. While these signs are not proof your child is being sex trafficked, it could be a sign of other risky behaviors that are leading to being trafficked.
4. Change in Behavior
Teens that are being groomed by sex traffickers may also have a change in behavior. If you notice that your child has become withdrawn, angry, depressed, changes in sleeping/eating patterns or other big changes do not chalk it up to teenage hormones. Take the time to look further, especially when presented with the other signs mentioned above.
Catholic Charities works to help women who have been sex trafficked. We also work with students to prevent risky behavior and encourage good decision making and problem solving.
You can help us continue our work with a one time or monthly gift to help sex trafficked survivors and teenagers in your community.