As parents, our children are a source of joy and happiness. They are our greatest treasure and worth every ounce of our unconditional love, care and protection. With this love comes great responsibility. Now more than ever, we have a duty as parents to safeguard our children from the various threats that exist in our world. 

Today, parents need to be aware of the dangers associated with child abuse and human trafficking. The statistics are shattering: 

  • One in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused as children.
  • One in 9 children receive online sexual solicitation.
  • Two million children are taken into sex trafficking each year.
  • The average age of children entering sex trafficking is 12-14 years old.

Predators are everywhere. They are present physically in our day-to-day lives and virtually on platforms such as the Internet, social media or gaming apps. According to the Child Crime and Prevention Safety Center, there are more than 500,000 online predators active each day. Specifically, the digital world of social media has made it easy for predators to target children. While many of these individuals’ prey on children online, it is important to note that predators can be anywhere, and they can be anyone. 

“Don’t talk to strangers.” Many adults believe this common phrase is the solution for protecting and preventing children from exposure to predators. However, it’s not that simple—90% of children know and trust their abusers personally. Only 10% of victims are abused by a stranger. The truth is predators are all around us. They exist in our neighborhoods, schools, sports teams and even our families. 

So, how do we as parents protect our children from such predators? How do we equip our children and prepare them for situations where they find themselves in an uncomfortable and dangerous situation? It starts by having an open conversation with our children, empowering them with knowledge and resources to protect themselves and their peers.

As someone who experienced sexual abuse as a pre-teen and has seen and heard stories from young people through my 10 years of experience rescuing trafficking survivors and leading an anti-trafficking organization, I’ve learned how to prepare our children, so they don’t become victims. Here’s five practical steps you can take as a parent to safeguard your children: 

Have conversations with your children early and often. 

The best thing you can do for your child is to have an honest dialogue with them. Discussing this topic is not a one-and-done task, but an ongoing conversation that should be brought up often. Parents should also be willing to address these concerns early. It is important to initiate age-appropriate conversations with your children to help them understand potential dangers and risks. Remember, it is never too late to have this conversation. 

Here are several topics to consider as you speak openly with your children: 

  • There is a difference between a secret and a surprise. Explain to your children that a safe adult will never ask a child to keep an unsafe secret from them. 
  • Talk about safe zones. An easy way to teach younger children about what areas are not safe for others to touch is to use the term “bathing suit zone.” This helps them understand the areas covered by our bathing suits are off limits to others.
  • When a child has an “icky” feeling about someone, they should approach you immediately. Help your children understand that their instincts speak louder than words. If they ever feel unsafe around an adult or another child, they should feel empowered to tell you right away. Make sure they know that they can always run to you if they have concerns. 

Educate your children about “grooming.” 

The “grooming” process is used by predators to target children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. These predators aim to build trust between themselves and their victims by giving compliments, showering children with gifts, romance and the alignment of common interests, backgrounds and experiences. This process is gradual and can happen over a long period of time. The sad truth is that most victims don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late, and once this is achieved, predators have the power to manipulate and control their victims. Thus, it is essential to warn your children about these strategies, so that they can recognize the signs and behaviors associated with “grooming.” 

Understand how technology provides easy access for predators. 

Children should be aware of the dangers the online world can present. As we know, predators have made a home for themselves on the internet. From social media to messaging platforms, these individuals have easy access to our children. Research shows that one out of nine children are approached by a predator via their smart phone. With that, 89% of predators use chatrooms to make sexual advances toward children. Predators have not only found our children online, but they are also manipulating and influencing their actions and decisions. One out of 7 preteens have shared their own nude photos, with 50% having sent them to someone they have never met in real life. 

There are several solutions to combat these issues and protect children online. First, parental controls can be used as a key preventative measure to ensure your children are not exposed to harmful online content. Monitor your children’s devices by following these instructions for iPhone or Android. Second, talk with your children about the dangers of location services and geotags. Photos taken and posted on social media may have a geotag linked to the image, making it easy for predators to track and locate your child’s device. Refer to these instructions to remove geotag settings.  

Equip your children with a plan of action.  

If presented with uncomfortable circumstances, children should feel prepared, ready to confidently respond and act. Therefore, it is our job as parents to guide our children and present them with a plan of action. The easiest way to do this is to walk your child through specific scenarios, coaching them on what to say and do if ever involved in an uncomfortable situation. On the flip side, if your child witnesses something done to another friend, help them understand that their voice matters. Challenge your children to be advocates for their fellow peers and approach an adult if they are concerned for another child. 

While some may argue that these conversations are premature and guided by paranoia, know that predators exist all around us and you can never be too careful. Parents, don’t fall into the trap that says, “this will never happen to my child.” Because what if it does? Will they be prepared and equipped to overcome whatever they find themselves involved in? My advice to you is to be proactive and educate your children. Be bold in conversation and talk about the hard things. Remember, it’s never too late to have a conversation with your kids. Encourage and empower them to be aware and mindful of the places they go and the people they associate themselves with, both in-person and online. 

About the Author: Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good is the co-founder and CEO of The Foundation United, a catalytic platform to end sexual exploitation and trafficking through systemic change. Fisher Good is a passionate pioneer and inspirational thought leader with a desire to expose the root issue behind sex trafficking — childhood sexual abuse. Her book “Groomed” (HarperCollins, 2020) recounts her own story of loss, abuse and triumph. Fisher Good dedicates her life to helping women from all backgrounds discover how to live free from past traumas, strongholds, and lies they may have been groomed to believe about themselves. Statistics and resources quoted above can be accessed at https://www.thefoundationunited.com/statsandresources.