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Hashtags Don’t Save Children, You Do #saveourchildren #savethechildren

What will save our children?

Not a # with adrenaline boosting stories about kidnapping.

Not a political party or religious belief.

Not over-blown stories about celebrity pedophile rings.

Not emphasis on only rich and privileged people buying children.

Not sensationalized mis-used numbers about missing children.

Not code words about how to order a child at a restaurant or through a furniture shop.

Not a single child will be saved by a hashtag.

When that’s all we focus on, we miss what’s happening in our own family, neighborhood, church, school, and local community. Every day children are sold for sex to many not so rich and famous everyday people and community members. Sometimes it’s a trade for food, shelter, drugs, alcohol, or other need/want. Cash transactions also happen in our rural, frontier, and urban landscapes. If we only look at the wealthy and the famous as perpetrators then we stay in denial about the local children-for-sex economy. It exists everywhere in person. There are many survivors spanning the country that have lived experience with not at all famous people as traffickers and buyers dating back several decades. The sexual exploitation of children is not new. If anything, it’s grown because of the newest tool: the internet. Despite the efforts of technology experts to stay ahead of traffickers, the web is rampant with children and their images for sale.

When too many people are talking at once, listen to the voices of lived experience. A group called SAFE: Survivors Against Familial Exploitation want everyone to understand that almost 40% of trafficked children are trafficked by a family member. (https://www.safe4us.org/)(https://polarisproject.org/blog/2020/08/what-we-know-about-how-child-sex-trafficking-happens/)

Here is what I know would have made a difference for me:

Children need to be seen, heard, validated, and loved. When we do this, we level the playing field for all children to avoid being trafficked. When we do this, we notice the kids that have bruises, injuries, and need us to stand up for them.

Teach children empowering language so they have words to accurately tell us about their bodies without shame.

Don’t make other adults in their lives decipher what “cookies” or “wee-wee” or other ambiguous words we use because of our own embarrassment and shame with penis, vagina, and breasts.

Educate all ages about consent. Then respect their choices.

Children don’t owe anyone a hug or kiss. If we take a lack of attention from a child personally, well, that’s our story to manage. Not theirs.

Be the family that creates a healthy sense of love, belonging, trust, and respect.

Take action on the small injustices because your action tells them they matter. Only then will kids share the big stuff. When they feel minimized or unheard, trust is broken.

Help kids outline a game plan for when they are shown an image or body part that isn’t by consent.

Talk to them about ways to respond when their peers are not treating others with respect and participating in consent.

Why would they know what to do if we haven’t discussed strategies with them? If we practice fire drills and tornado drills at school, surely we can discuss what to do at a party or in a bullying situation. Think about how you would have handled something different if you’d been prepared as a young person.

To do this well we need to re-educate ourselves- it’s time for a cultural revolution that starts paying attention to each child in our midst. Every adult can choose to be the informed and safe adult that kids can trust.

Grandpa, you can help shape your family legacy by interrupting this age old model of “let the boys be the boys”.

Grandma, you can change the future of your family because you chose to raise the young women’s voices in your family today.

Aunts and Uncles can say “we don’t tell jokes like that anymore because we know better” and “disrespecting others isn’t how we thrive, we respect every human.”

Silence is harmful and traumatic all by itself. When we know there is a predator of children in our midst, do the right thing, report the situation to the authorities and allow the professionals into your lives to help sort out criminal actions, healthy boundaries, and recovery. Leaving a child alone in an abusive environment and hoping something changes is like asking a child to fix the family car without any tools. The burden is on the healthy adults and caregivers in a child’s life. Ignoring predators and abuse is criminal.

Physical and sexual abuse of children is epidemic and happens at a much higher rate than children being abducted and sold. Being willing to interrupt abuse in our family systems is hard and necessary and directly impacts the vulnerability of kids in regard to trafficking, substance abuse, and homelessness. When recovery happens in a timely manner, kids can learn early that they are much more than their trauma.

Do trafficking and pedophile rings and networks exist? Yes, absolutely. Can we individually do anything about them? Not much, that work is best left to the professionals, and again speak up for the child in your midst that’s being abused in any way and networks will be exposed that you don’t realize exist.

Spend time and energy on the children we can build safe healthy relationships with, because if everyone did just that criminals would be threatened with a generation of strong, confident, truth telling kids that will know their human rights and know how to get help from smart healthy adults. We just have to treat children better than the criminals.

It’s these hard, awkward, and healthy ways of being with the children in our lives that reduces the vulnerability of being trafficked. Children that are never taught self-respect and consent with their bodies, children that have unresolved trauma and sexual abuse in their history, children that are looking for love, validation, and belonging are among the children and adults that find themselves in hard places with no one to turn to for help. Traffickers and pedophiles find those among us that have unmet physical and/or emotional needs. Rarely are victims kidnapped.

Children and adults that are currently victims, they need a healthy community to recover in – that is how you can help. Be educated, be healthy.

Prevention is helping kids understand their value as humans and teaching them to value all humans. This is worthwhile work. #keepitlocal #lovekids #changeculture #survivorvoices