WASHINGTON, April 15, 2014 — The United States officially designated April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month in 2001. Throughout the month, organizations across the country host events and programs that aim to educate the public and bring awareness about the problem of sexual assault.
Increasing awareness about human trafficking, dating violence and abuse are critical to making changes and ending the practices.
Vulnerable populations are always at risk for being targeted, manipulated, exploited, coerced and ultimately trafficked, either for labor or purposes of sex. The simple reason is that those who are most vulnerable are also the easiest to control.
Children, teens and young men and women who have been abused in any form are among those vulnerable populations who are most at-risk to become victims of human trafficking.
The definition of human trafficking includes populations who are exploited and manipulated for the purposes of labor and or sex.
Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Included in the definition of sexual assault are activities such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape. Victims of dating violence can suffer many of the same traumas as those of sexual assault.
The best way to prevent dating violence and abuse is education. Teach children about respectful, healthy relationships. Building healthy self esteem in children and teens is key to helping them avoid negative relationships.
Human traffickers look for children and teens who exhibit signs of low self esteem. Traffickers are known to troll social media sites looking for posts from vulnerable youth who post about problems at home, arguments with their families, and discuss running away from home. The trafficker will then reach out with offers of assistance and understanding.
Silence is a key factor in keeping a victim vulnerable to human traffickers. More than 70 percent of teens who are being abused and who may have experienced dating violence will never tell anyone. And most who do tell someone will only talk with their friends, not their parents, teachers or other authority figures.
Traffickers use silence in all of their tactics of exploitation. A victim who has already been silent about previous dating violence or abuse in their lives is easier for traffickers to control. Through a combination of expert manipulation and violence, human traffickers control their victims and reprogram their realities. Victims then begin to bond with their traffickers in what is called ‘trauma bonding’. This bond is a mental bond or chain that is sometimes much harder to break than any metal chain.
Teens sometimes confuse jealousy or for love, when it is actually control and abuse. This type of abusive behavior can quickly escalate into physical and sexual violence. It’s important to help your teens recognize the warning signs, before it’s too late.
Teach teens that it is important to understand how to treat their partners. Most teens who abuse their partners, boyfriends or girlfriends have never been taught how to have a respectful relationship. Teens need to learn that they never have a right to hurt, pressure, isolate others.
Teach teens how to identify what could be the warning signs of an abusive relationship, and also ways that human traffickers control their victims, some of which include:
Extreme jealousy or insecurity.
Isolating you from friends or family.
Checking your cell phone or email without permission.
Insulting or putting you down.
Physically hurting you in any way, even pushing.
Telling you what to do.
Pressuring you to do things you don’t want to do including having sex.
Teenagers should understand that sometimes relationships end there are safe ways to terminate a relationship. Adults can help by encouraging teens to share their feelings with parents, counselors or other adults. It is important for teenagers to have a safe outlet to share their feelings.
Learning healthy relationship strategies will help them create healthy relationships later in life and also avoid becoming a target for human traffickers.
Communication is key in breaking the silence and critical connection between abuse, dating violence and becoming a victim of human trafficking. Abuse and violence thrives in silence.
Barbara Amaya author, advocate, survivor