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Exposing the Role of Social Media in Child Sex Trafficking

Karen Shade - January 19, 2017 5:30 am

Russ Tuttle with Stop Trafficking from KC presenting information Wednesday to local professionals about the prevention of Human Trafficking. (photo from the Salina Advocacy and Parenting Services organization)

Russ Tuttle told over 80 professionals that child sex trafficking can be summed up in three words:  “exploitation of vulnerability”.  They’d gathered to attend his three hour presentation at CAPS on Wednesday.  Tuttle and co-presenter Stacey Lareau then explored the role of social media in sex trafficking Wednesday evening at K-State Polytechnic; Tuttle and Lareau worked separately with junior/ senior high students and adults to educate and empower them to do better by each other.

Tuttle said he couldn’t speak to the number of children who are currently being trafficked in Salina.  But, as director of Aware KC, he promotes awareness and prevention strategies at The Stop Trafficking Project.  His interest stems from his childhood in India, when he saw multiple kinds of exploitation.

As his top strategy for addressing trafficking, he urged attendees to participate in the Salina Area Coalition for Trafficked Persons.  This is headed by Janie and Eric Ford, who have worked to address trafficking in Bangkok, Thailand.  The Fords live in Wichita and are frequently in Salina.  The coalition was launched in 2015 and meets on the second Thursday of the month at Noon.  For more information, contact sacoalition4tp@gmail.com or www.facebook.com/salinaareacoalition.

Recently, Salinans were reminded that child sex trafficking occurs locally when two older white males were arrested for having sex with a trafficked minor.  At Tuesday’s Saline County Commission meeting, Commissioners were told that a trafficked victim will bring twice the price in Salina, as two interstates intersect nearby.

Sadly, Salina has many of the businesses and conditions that are linked to human trafficking:  strip clubs, pornography, runaways, massage parlors, online escort services, social media, truck stops and homelessness.

Wednesday’s workshop focused primarily on domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST).  Tuttle urged attendees to take the word “prostitute” out of their vocabulary, as he’d found that those who perform the sex acts are victims.  He said, “Children are being raped for profit.”

Tuttle said that 75% of all women used in prostitution were victims of incest and/or physical abuse as children.  He continued with these statistics:

  • The average age of a trafficked victim in 12 years old.
  • A 2009 sting operation in Kansas City Kansas consisted of internet decoys offering young girls for sex. This site attracted 500 contacts in the first 24 hours.
  • A 2013 study found 14.5% of the male population over age 18 in the greater KC region were looking to have sex with minors. Tuttle said this translated into 106,000 men, just in KC.
  • Before they turn 18, 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls will experience some kind of sexual abuse.
  • Of all pornographic images, 1 in 5 depicts a child.

In the mid-west, the individuals responsible for trafficking tended to use the following strategies:

  • “Loverboy or boyfriend” strategy (Romeo pimp).
  • Kidnapping or abduction strategy (typically used by gangs or guerilla pimps).
  • Parents selling their children (family pimp).
  • On-line recruitment of youth.
  • False promises of legitimate jobs.

Those who sell others for sex consider it to be “a business”.  Tuttle said that the public often removes compassion from the victimized youth, who he said may not be particularly likeable, as a result of the multiple traumas they have endured.  Tuttle continued that the public often “gets angry at the sex sellers . . . but if it weren’t for middle aged white men, there’d be no sex buyers”.

Tuttle said a sex seller may only need to tell a youth that they have “pretty eyes” in order to begin the process of grooming them.  These sellers look for children who:

  • Lack self-esteem.
  • Perceive they are being ignored, ostracized or shunned by other teens at school.
  • Hold feelings of anger that are directed at their parents.
  • Perceive they are unattractive.

Tuttle said that given these descriptors, nearly all children are vulnerable.

Tuttle said identifying a potential victim’s “desires and dis-satisfiers” allows a seller to gradually begin exercising greater control over their victim.  With increasing frequency, slightly older trafficked children are used as spotters to bring other potential victims to the attention of the seller.

In the mid-west, Tuttle said that many victims are initially contacted on-line.  He reminded attendees that youth should not accept just anyone into their social networking and should not share personal information.  Yet, this is easier said than done.  Using information gathered from those who attended his presentations, Tuttle said 26% of the youth he surveyed had communicated with strangers on-line, and had “put their desires and dis-satisfiers out there so they could potentially be exploited”.

Tuttle urged parents to watch the 2009 documentary “Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss”, saying kids today don’t consider oral sex to be sex.  He also said that sexting (the sharing of pictures of private body parts) is also common.

When asked by a local youth pastor what he would do if a youth disclosed that they had inappropriate messages or images on their phones, Tuttle:

  • Urged the pastor to seek out the local coalition.
  • Reminded others that a parent likely owns the device in question and that parents often don’t give their permission to address whatever messages or images on that device.
  • Encouraged that the recipient of the unwanted images block the sender. He urged that the image be retained (and not deleted).  He urged that law enforcement be contacted, especially if an adult was requesting an inappropriate image of the minor or if other minors were maliciously distributing images of a minor.
  • Commented that if the images are on Chromebooks or devices owned by school systems, the school should have additional policies for dealing with the matter.

Tuttle said pornography is an engine that drives much sex trafficking.  Boys increasingly have early exposure to pornography.

Tuttle said he asks students to help take a stand to protect other students.  He asks men to be better men.

AwareKC successfully educates and empowers students.  AwareKC increases awareness and prompts adults to take action.  Additional information can be found at www.awarekc.org.

AwareKC identified these additional resources:

  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 800.THE.LOST or online www.missingkids.com and follow links for their cybertipline.
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7/365: 888.373.7888
  • In an immediate emergency, always dial:
City of Salina