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Nalini Joseph: Children deserve to live in bubbles of safety

By Nalini Joseph

Human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children does not appear to be going away in Rowan County. 

The Charlotte metro area consistently ranks No. 1 in the state for human trafficking. N.C. ranks 11th in prevalence of human trafficking, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Present Age Ministries is a Christian based organization that is committed to combating trafficking of teen girls and serves hundreds, mostly ages 12 and older. Kami Biastes from Present Age Ministries reports a 46% increase in referrals since the pandemic started, saying the organization is seeing more 12-year-old girls than they ever have in the past.

It may surprise you to know that it takes at least nine months after a victim has left their state of active victimization to realize that they were indeed a victim. How, why and what is the allure we ask ourselves? How do our 9 and 10-year-old girls (and some boys) become victims of sexual abuse and exploitation? We try so hard as a society to give our children a wonderful and enjoyable childhood. America is such a great country to grow up in; there are so many opportunities for our children — clean parks, affordable summer swimming and tennis offered by city governments, places to hike, beautiful lakes and oceans to swim in and, of course, good teachers and programs that help children achieve academic success. How then, are so many of our young girls and boys victims of sexual abuse?  

The answers are complicated and manifold. For decades now, many children have been parented by TV or the internet. Parental supervision is not as easy as it was before the advent of the iPhone, the iPad, Instagram and Snapchat. Parents do not know that an extra calculator icon on their daughter’s cell phone is not in fact a calculator. Parents don’t realize their daughter may own a secondary cell phone, given to them by their “boyfriend.”

I attended a seminar a few years ago on this subject of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. The lecturer was a human trafficking expert from the Chicago-area police department. A trainee asked a question about what age a child should be before receiving their first cell phone. The expert’s answer was: “Whenever you’re ready for your child to be exposed to pornography.” He added that there is no such thing as your teenager having “their space” and “their independence” in your home while you are the parent, and your child is still a child.  Open doors, monitored screens and chats and questions of friends and their parents are essential in preventing sexual exploitation.   

Although our children are laden with so many luxuries and opportunities that children in other parts of the world will never experience, we must remember that they are still children. They are not born with adult brain and thinking capacity. 

They are insecure, shy, easily manipulated and fearful of not being accepted by their peers. So, when a perpetrator (a man or woman) approaches a group of young girls shopping at the mall, he or she draws the group of girls into a conversation by complimenting them on their hairstyle, their clothing style and their pretty faces. Most often, if a perpetrator approaches a group of girls, he or she is attempting to single out the girl that doesn’t say much and doesn’t give much eye contact. If a girl is sitting by herself, the most common approach that a perpetrator takes is to tell her how gorgeous she is, that she actually looks like a model and, in fact, should seriously consider being in a music video. To an adult, this type of attempted manipulation is laughable.  For a 12-year-old girl, all she knows is that she is overcome with a sense of thrill and excitement.

Our children cannot be left alone to think, judge, and fend for themselves. They need lots of time with their moms and dads. They need parents to be involved; they need parents who ask probing questions; they need parents who are not afraid or ashamed to ask questions. Our children deserve to live in their bubbles of safety while they are in our care.      

Joseph is a resident of Salisbury. She is the proud mother of her son, Rohan Joseph. Email her at nalinijones1@hotmail.com.   

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