Trafficking prevention begins at home–not just in raising awareness, but also in strengthening families so that kids stay in the safe harbor of home.
The Vulnerability of Kids Who Run Away From Home
Did you know that the most prevalent way sex traffickers used to find and recruit their victims involved targeting runaways? According to a six-year study of trafficking cases in the U.S., almost a quarter of sex trafficking victims were runaways. Traffickers used promises of money, offered victims a place to stay, and relied on friendship or romantic relationships to recruit their victims. When a teen runs away from home, they are vulnerable to anyone offering them what seems like kindness. It doesn’t take much to lure them in.
The same is true in the region where we work. While some of the details may differ–for example, we’re seeing a growth in online sexual exploitation and grooming that can happen even when kids stay at home–the importance of strong family relationships remain critical as a form of protection. It’s essential that kids have safe people to talk to about their problems, that they know their self-worth and their rights, and that relationships don’t become so frayed that kids look elsewhere for the attention they crave.
How We’re Strengthening Families
We recently held a 2-day family camp for 7 mothers who are parenting alone. As any parent knows, parenting solo can cause heavy burdens and stress. One mother is the head of a household with 8 family members! Lacking education herself, she knows how limiting that has been, so she doesn’t ask her children to help around the house because she wants them to prioritize studying. But between working and taking care of 8 people, she feels tired, stressed and this naturally leads to break down in the relationships at home. The camp provided an opportunity to learn about better communication strategies and skills so that family life can run more smoothly and reduce, rather than create, stress. It helped these mothers recognize how caring for their own needs is important for the whole family, and how asking the children to help with chores equips them with essential life skills.
Before the camp, many of the families shared that they had suffered problems particularly in relation to parents and students respecting each other. However, one month later, we followed up to learn that the camp had been a positive experience. One mother said, “I never thought I’d have a chance to do an activity like this.” She said the camp exposed her to new ideas, and for the first time, she felt like she wasn’t alone in her experiences.
Similarly, one of our counselors, Khae, taught 10 families about domestic violence and its impacts on the family. We heard from the families afterward that this was the first time they’d ever been taught that domestic violence is harmful and what kind of negative impact it has on other family members.
These kinds of changes are not quick fixes. They are the slow, hard kind of work. But this is what prevention looks like when it goes deep–helping people gain resilience from the inside out.