Sex Trafficking and Precautions for kids in Foster Care.
Human trafficking is present in Virginia; learn ways you can help protect a foster child.
Currently, more than 400,000 youth in foster care in the United States and more than 5,400 children in the foster care system in Virginia. These young people, who often come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect, are more vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking or, more specifically victims of sex trafficking. That is why placing these at-risk children in safe, attentive, loving foster homes is necessary.
Sex trafficking is a form of slavery. Victims are forced to perform sexual acts against their will. Often, perpetrators abuse and sometimes drug their victims into complacency.
Sex trafficking is a crime that leaves its victims injured, traumatized, and physically and emotionally abused. Sex trafficking is a public safety issue for all; however, studies have shown that a great deal of sex trafficking victims come from the foster care system:
- About half of the victims are from either the foster care system or are juvenile offenders from the juvenile justice system and/ or have been convicted in the juvenile courts.
- As many as 80% of victims rescued are or have been in the foster care system.
- Approximately 44% of runaways from foster care become victims of sex trafficking.
Since 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia has seen over 1,500 cases of human trafficking. In 2020 alone, there were 119 cases of human trafficking reported in Virginia. The state's trafficking hotline received 189 calls from victims and survivors that year.
Given these numbers, we can interpolate that 100 of the 119 reported cases were children in Virginia's foster care system, children under State protection. Sadly, these are only the authority's know cases; there are likely many more.
The goal now is to prevent more foster children from becoming victims. This job falls not only to social services, law enforcement, and the criminal courts, among other professionals and professional institutions but also to the volunteers caring for foster children.
Why Are Foster Children Vulnerable to Sex Trafficking?
Many children in foster care struggle with mental health issues like depression or anxiety. They may likely come from a background of domestic violence or neglectful and emotionally abusive family members. They also may fear what will happen to them when they age out of the system.
These conditions can be used as warning signs to demonstrate which kids are more at risk of falling into harmful activities like sex trafficking. This is why it is vital for a variety of professionals and volunteers to support these foster youth 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
If that support system is poor or non-existent, it leaves the child open to someone with ill intent. Often, the victim knows the person who initially trafficks them. Traffickers often use force, fraud, or coercion to pressure victims to participate in commercial sex. The perpetrator persuades them they care about the victim and gain their trust by providing the support system that may be lacking in their foster homes, whether it is money, food, belongings, or attention.
As a foster parent, it's your job to support and protect the children placed in your care, including teaching them about sex trafficking and giving them the tools to protect themselves from becoming victims.
Foster Care Sex Trafficking Safety Precautions
There are ways to identify and protect your foster children from sex trafficking. Know what warning signs to look for and how to help your foster child if you suspect something is wrong.
- Know what's happening with the children in your care: You can't force foster children to confide in you; that only happens if you first develop a positive relationship with them. Encourage honesty by being honest with them and allowing them to say how they feel without concern for being punished.
- Try to find common interests: When they speak to you about their interests, listen, and ask questions. Make it clear they can turn to you if they encounter a problem, and demonstrate that you're trustworthy and helpful. They're more likely to tell you if they become uncomfortable with someone because you've developed this rapport.
- Pay attention to any new expensive items: Perpetrators use gifts of money or expensive items -- something lacking from the child's current situation -- to lure the foster child into a feeling of comfort and care. They are grooming the child and engendering trust so the child won't see a problem when the abuse starts.
- Grooming takes time, and sex traffickers are patient: If you notice your foster child consistently bringing home items they can't afford, there might be an issue. It is possible it could be a harmless gift from a friend. However, you should act if there are numerous expensive gifts in a short time with no apparent life celebration like a birthday or graduation.
- Watch how they interact with friends: Are there specific people your foster child doesn't want you to meet? Do they seem to have a positive relationship with the people they discuss? Are they engaging in activities they shouldn't be when they're together?
- Please pay attention when their friends are over: Watch how they interact with each other. It can give you an idea if someone seems too controlling. If your child already feels comfortable enough to come to you when there's a problem, that gives you an advantage because you will have the opportunity to have an honest discussion about your concerns.
- Listen to how they talk about sexual subjects: As your foster child grows, they'll have questions about sex. This can be uncomfortable for both foster parents and children to discuss. Still, it's essential to answer their questions fully and truthfully with age-appropriate information.
- Also, pay attention to how your foster child discusses sex: A young person indicating that they are or would like to be engaged in lewd behavior casually is very much at risk of being groomed for sex trafficking. Someone may already be in the process of doing so, which is why it is essential to stay vigilant.
- Always keep your eyes open for signs of abuse: A person trying to groom a child for sex trafficking may also be abusing them. It is crucial to know the signs of abuse before they appear on your doorstep. Everyone reacts differently to abuse, and different symptoms appear depending on the type of abuse.
- The key is to know when your foster child acts very differently from their standard behavior. For example, you may observe behaviors such as apologizing when they did nothing wrong. Or they may try to cover minor injuries with heavy clothes during the summer months.
What To Do If You Suspect Sex Trafficking:
If you feel or know trafficking is occurring or has occurred, never hesitate to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You must also report your suspicions to your Child Placing Agency and the Foster Care services.
Foster children are more vulnerable to sex trafficking. The best way to protect them is by providing them with a safe and loving home where they can thrive. For this reason, there's a high demand for good families to foster. Contact us to learn more about fostering in Virginia.