January is human trafficking awareness month. If you have a child or teenager in your life, it is vitally important to understand human trafficking and how it impacts every individual.
In 2019, I founded the Stop Traffic Walk, which raises funds and awareness for Where Hope Lives: the largest human trafficking rescue and recovery operation in North America; the second largest in the world.
Where Hope Lives provides rescue and rehabilitation services to survivors of human trafficking- both boys and girls, juveniles and adults, individuals, and families. The one-year success rate of graduates is 94%. (learn more at www.WhereHopeLives.org).
Working with these survivors, I have listened to their stories, and they are not that different from mine; they started out in families where they had hopes, dreams, and a lot of love to give.
A common misconception is that trafficked individuals come from a low-income demographic. That could not be further from the truth.
Trafficking victims come from every income level, family-dynamic, and demographic. They live in the wealthiest of families and the poorest of communities; they are our nieces and nephews; they are our sons and daughters.
In Arizona, the average trafficked individual enters the life at 14 years old and are victimized in broad daylight.
If you have a 10-16-year-old child in your life, there is a very good chance that they are being groomed by traffickers online. These traffickers pose as friends or friend-of-a-friend online, get into their social networks and start building relationships. They are extremely patient.
The grooming process can go on for years. When they see a social media post that gives any hint of tension with friends or family, they will reach out as a caring friend and offer to get together to “talk.”
When they meet, the child becomes a victim of trafficking and is unwillingly plunged into a world where only one out of ninety-nine victims will escape, and the average lifespan is 7 years. This scenario plays itself out every day and shows no mercy to those who fall victim.
But there is something that you can do!
You can educate yourself and your family about these grooming practices. You can monitor the online activity of your kids and grandkids and talk to them about making sure that they actually know their online friends.
You can also show your support to survivors by walking in the upcoming Stop Traffic Walk at the Peoria Sports Complex on Saturday, January 29, from 5-8 pm. The event is free and features carnival games and rides for the kids. At 7 pm, there is a ceremony honoring the survivors and everyone walks alongside the survivors to show their support. It is truly inspiring.
You can register at www.StopTrafficWalk.org.
Editor’s note: Mr. May is the founder of the Dream City Foundation
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