A couple of years ago, one of our partner organizations reported on a case where a teenage boy had been arrested for trafficking. He and his girlfriend had broken up, and he subsequently took revenge by sharing explicit footage of her online via multiple apps for money. They were both underage. This is about how kids can get involved in trafficking other kids.
Why This Example Matters
This story is not about kidnapping and abuse. If one is allowed to speculate, it seems likely that the culprit knew that what he was doing was morally wrong–it was a revenge tactic, after all. He had to have known it would cause harm. It’s also likely that he had no idea that it fits the legal definition of trafficking and online commercial sexual exploitation. He probably had no concept of the legal consequences he would face.
This story shows that we need to have far more nuance in our conversations with youth and our greater cultural awareness on the topic of consent, online exploitation, and trafficking.
What We Need to Talk to Kids About
This example is only one way that teenage relationships can go awry, and yet it calls up is a plethora of issues that youth really should be made aware of:
- Having consent to take photo or video images
- Having consent to share photo or video images
- Who owns images and who has the right to determine what happens to those images
- Giving consent and what risks that can potentially lead to
- How age matters in sexual exploitation
- How age classifying any form of sexual exploitation for monetary gain as trafficking
- How little control anyone has over the sharing of digital images
- The depth and long term impact of this kind of harm for the victim, as well as the consequences for the perpetrator
And yet, it is doubtful that very many adults in most children’s lives engage in conversations of this depth with them. Most conversations probably don’t go beyond promoting abstinence, and in lieu of abstinence, then safe sex. Most discussions about consent probably focus on the act of sex and not on the broader realm of sexualized activity, including photos or videos made or sent in the context of a relationship.
Youth shouldn’t be left alone to understand these things. It’s on the adults in their lives to make these issues explicitly understood. It’s awkward and challenging to talk about these things sometimes, and social media for this generation is a significantly different experience than most adults had to contend with when we were teenagers. But we have to ask ourselves: who is talking to our kids about this? If we don’t speak to them about it, they are left to find out from the world available to them online–a world where traffickers and other exploiters lurk, finding victims as well as spreading their ethos.