While driving I was listening to a talk show where the topic was human trafficking, in particular, kids 18 and younger being exploited sexually. I was shocked to hear that this is the nation’s 3rd largest criminal industry, with narcotics in first place, and firearm trafficking in second place.
I think we all conjure up images when we hear the term human trafficking, but it is essentially a slave trade which is occurring in present day America and across the globe. These children are snared and abducted, forced to become prostitutes. The radio guest gave one example how young adolescents and teens are unwittingly enticed. They are approached at malls, disguised as scouts for modeling agencies, or perhaps photographers who promise they can introduce them into the world of modeling.
This is not something that happens only in some red light district in a third world country, like Cambodia, for instance. This is no longer just happening in the background. It is happening in front of our very eyes, if we choose to see. It can happen to anyone, anywhere.
I got a cold shiver when the radio guest mentioned that it happens quite frequently in malls. I was reminded of a few years ago when my daughter was 13 years old, and in the 7th grade. She and I were at the mall one late afternoon. I was buying foundation and she wanted to go look at shoes. This was the “first” time I said “Okay but be careful. I’ll be there shortly.” Up until this point I have always been extremely cautious about never separating at a mall, grocery store, or any large place where I cannot see her. Ever since she was little I would often remind her, “If you can’t see me, then that means I can’t see you. You have to stay where I can see you.” Of course my daughter always thought I was being extremely overprotective, and it doesn’t help that her father tells her “your mom is overprotective.” Unfortunately despite the ample facts and tragedies that support the need for parents to be extremely vigilant, there are still parents with nonchalant attitudes.
I’m good with being called “overprotective.” However, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if my child paid the price for my lack of judgment and naivety.
My daughter was separated from me less than 10 minutes that afternoon. The whole time my heart felt like it was racing to get back to her. I rushed through the transaction and made my way directly to the shoe department. As I searched for her I didn’t immediately see her. I was looking for a single figure. Instead to my horror, I saw a man in his early 20’s talking to her, with a young couple waiting on him, some four feet away. I saw him with pen in hand and a yellow sticky note pad, writing something down.
I immediately made my way toward them and let lose my crazy mom attitude! “What’s going on here?”
As I stared him down with my nuclear energy laser beam eyesight, he was
quiet and did not respond. Suspect. Very suspect. A man in his early twenties who is standing next to my 13 year old daughter and doesn’t have anything to say?
I looked at my daughter and asked her “Did you give him your number?”
“No. He asked me for it because he said he had some modeling information he could give me.”
“No! Absolutely not! Do not ever do that!” My daughter knows this. We’ve talked about this subject for years, that we don’t talk to strangers, that we don’t give out our telephone number. And yet, here she was, no match for a man twice her age, manipulating her.
I turned to him sternly, “What are you doing asking an underage child for her number?”
At that point the woman who was with them said “Come on let’s go.”
“Yes, you better go and think twice about approaching young girls!”
There’s a time and a place to be a B. And that time is whenever you so much as sense your child is in jeopardy. I know some women who are “nice” to the point of stupid. No, this is not the time to be “nice” or think one has to handle this in a polite or “Christian” manner. We are parents, called to protect our children first and foremost. Manners and niceties will only show weakness, when you are staring into the mouth of a villain who is about to devour its prey: your children. Say goodbye to nice. Grab hold of rage and use it to protect your babies. This works in the animal kingdom, as well as in the mall. Always put your babies first and don’t worry about what you might look like or sound like.
If he had good intentions, he would have initially asked to talk to her mom. He would have introduced himself when he saw me approaching. None of these things happened. Clearly there is so much he could have said and done to rectify the situation if he was legitimate. He would have offered me the “modeling agency” information, etc. Even that, however, would not mean it’s a legitimate agency that isn’t acting as a front for human trafficking, for instance.
I will never regret being the B mother bear, with claws that sliced and diced in the shoe department. However, when I reflect back today on this, I should have additionally called the police. I wasn’t thinking about anything but the immediate urgency to get these people away from my child. But we also need to protect others.
Later, after they left, my daughter said with agitation toward me because I embarrassed her, “Mom, I wasn’t going to give him my real number.” Though I explained what these people could have represented, I don’t believe it sunk in. Later that evening, we looked online for the agency he mentioned to her. Sure enough, they had a web site. It’s easy enough to create web sites when you’re a multi billion-dollar industry. Just because a site exists, doesn’t mean the agency is legitimate. One would have to do a lot of research and find out from legitimate sources if this agency is legitimate. Perhaps even consult with law enforcement to confirm no criminal activity associated with the agency.
My daughter inquired with a friend who has modeled for several agencies, and he never heard of that agency.
A couple of years later, now in high school, my daughter selected “Human Trafficking” as a topic for a research report. As she investigated it further, she had her light bulb moment. “Mom, you think that guy that approached me that time at the mall could have been one of these people?”
We’ll never know for certain, but two years later she understood why mom went ballistic and showed her fangs. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Copyright © 2011 Ella Venezia. All Rights Reserved.
Kudos to “The Body Shop” for getting involved and launching a campaign to stop the sexual exploitation of our children. Please sign a petition found on this link: