There are common risk factors for grooming about which we need to be educated. These are the signs that make the children of our community appear vulnerable. As we learn these signs, we can become serious about prevention. These are the nuts and bolts of ending sex trafficking. We get to keep our eyes and ears open, looking and listening for the signs and stepping in, where we can, with action. We show kindness and love to the girls who display these warning signs.
These are signs that the pimps and violators are looking for. When looking for their next girl, they won’t just select anyone, they are looking for an easy target. In what I’ve learned about pimps, they are always looking for their next girl. They are constantly looking and will exploit a child with these signs. This is why we need to know them just as well as the pimps. This is why we need to be on the lookout and have courage to act. We can step in and speak safety and love into these girls’ lives. If we know, see, and act, we can prevent sex trafficking here in Snohomish County.
Pimps are looking for girls who look lonely. One way you can spot a lonely girl is if she is alone. If there are groups of two or three and then a single girl and then another group of two or three walking down the sidewalk after school, the girl that is alone is at greater risk for being a target. If the other groups are making fun of the girl and she runs off, this is even a greater risk. If a girl feels like no one wants her, then she is at great risk. If she is lonely and unloved it is easier to befriend and win her over. If you have a sweet-talking pimp and he says he wants to be friends, the lonelier you are and the more vulnerable you will be. If you have no friends and some older nice-looking man says he wants to be friends, you can fall victim.
We are social creatures who crave interaction with others. We long to be known and cared about. We need others who care for us and interact with us. If we feel as though we are unwanted or unlovable, we are in a dangerous place. This is what many kids in middle and high school feel like. We need to be on the lookout for these kids who withdraw and extend invitations of healthy friendship before someone with bad intentions reaches out to them.
This may sound easy, but lonely people might not be easy to deal with. There may be a level of distrust and trials that you will have to go through to prove that you actually care. You can extend invitations over and over until you’re blue in the face and they might still reject you. But there is an antidote to this: loving persistence. Don’t give up. Always speak and be kindness, especially when you are rejected. This is hard work but together we can do it.
Here are some signs of loneliness
Walking to and from school alone
Not talking to any kids when other kids are around
Constant checking out on social media
Making up stories on social media
Always have earbuds in to avoid people
Tiredness and apathy
Not all these signs have to take place in real life;they can reveal themselves on social media as more and more kids have these outlets. We will talk about online safety in its own blog post. However, it is worth mentioning here that more and more kids are sharing their thoughts and feelings on the cool new social media outlets. You can find out a lot through these online portals and if you can find out a lot, so can others.
Let us meet loneliness with kindness and love. Let us meet difficult kids with understanding. Let us spot these kids and shower them with the love that they deserve. If we are reminded that it could only take one caring adult in their life to help steer them in the right direction, then we can do this. We don’t have to have a massive initiative or start a separate non-profit to do this. We don’t need to be overwhelmed by what goes on in our community. We can start by talking to one lonely kid and this would be enough.
Do you remember middle school and high school? Do you remember how often you felt misunderstood? I do. I wanted my new thoughts to be validated. I wanted to know what I was talking about and I wanted others to recognize it as well. Sometimes I would mask my new thoughts in humor, to try them in jokes before I believed them, testing out how others may gauge my thoughts. If they were validated that was awesome, if not I didn’t know what to do.
Feeling misunderstood can rock one’s world. Sometimes we may not be understood for good reasons, but that doesn’t help our feelings of inadequacy. When misunderstood, there is a feeling of disconnection and often the disconnection will be further from those who might care for you. If thoughts are never validated by others, it is difficult to find your own voice. You need your own voice to stand up for yourself and to find self-worth.
Sometimes misunderstanding is replaced by anger, confusion, and impatience. These times can be emotionally charged beyond where they need to be. It can be harmful to our development if we can’t find someone who has the patience to understand. If one gets to the point where they stop sharing their opinions in fear of rejection that is a dangerous and vulnerable place.
We can fight this by being quick to listen and slow to speak. We can ask questions that dive deeper into understanding what is being said. We can ask questions without judgement. When there is misunderstanding, the conversation needs to slow way down. If we constantly skip over conversations of those who feel misunderstood, then we are doing a disservice to the speaker. We get to listen. If we learn to ask open ended questions rather than yes/no questions this will be helpful. There may even be times when it is appropriate to ask if you can take notes to track what the other is saying. It may be awkward to ask to take notes, but it helps clear up details that can get murky. It can let other know how badly you want to understand them.
Here are some signs of feeling misunderstood
Uses humor to mask real feelings
Gets angry when trying to form thoughts
Repeated attempts to share the same thing
Impatience when talking
Forcefulness when talking
Rarely or never sharing opinions
Fighting with parents:
We need ears as well as eyes. We should listen to kids who fight with their parents. The more they fight, the more we should listen. They are obviously feeling misunderstood in the one place where they should feel safety. Home is one of the greatest places for social, mental, and spiritual development. Home can also be a challenging place, but we grow more in challenges than in ease. We need the challenges of a healthy home.
It is hard to listen to a child complain about their parents and not pass judgement on the parents. But that is not our job unless we need to report abuse to the authorities. We don’t want to isolate or distance the child from their parents, the parent/child relationship is complex but extremely important in development. What we do want to do is facilitate understanding and foster healthy relationships at home and listen for places where abuse may be happening.
That being said we need to listen for kids that constantly complain about their parents. If they are feeling lonely and misunderstood by their parents, they are unknowingly placing themselves at greater risk if they talk about this constantly. Pimps are looking for ways to distance their victims from those who love and care about them. We need to look for ways to connect parents and children together. We can foster relationship and understanding. We want to connect children to their parents rather than isolate them.
If you combine loneliness, feeling misunderstood, and fighting with parents it only exacerbates vulnerabilities. Loving adults and peers need to step up and speak with love, kindness, and consistency. We get to be attentive to these risk factors for grooming. Again it is not easy work, but it is rewarding though filled with heartache and joy.
#TeamMitchellBoys is raising awareness this month and also fund for Peoria Home. Peoria Home is just one place where we can put our deepening understanding to practice.