Fewer than four in 10 girls (38 per cent) estimate that their parents are “very aware” of their social media activity. Photo from Unsplash

Parents key in sex trafficking battle over young teen girls

  • December 13, 2018

Young teenage girls on their phones regularly put themselves at risk for sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, but those risks decrease for teens whose parents talk to them about avoiding strangers online, a new Ipsos study for Covenant House has found.

“The biggest strength, the biggest tool in the toolbox, is the conversation,” Covenant House manager of human trafficking services Julie Neubauer told The Catholic Register.

One-fifth of girls whose parents are aware of their social media activities admit to responding to online messages from people they don’t know, according to the survey

Nearly one third (31 per cent) said they accept friend or follow requests from people they’ve never met. But those numbers are starkly higher among young teens whose parents are unaware of their social media activity. For girls whose parents are in the dark, 37 per cent said they respond to messages from strangers and 47 per cent accept friend or follow requests from people they haven’t met in person.

Even for the closely monitored teens, the numbers are unacceptably high, said Neubauer.

“It should absolutely distress people that despite our best parenting intentions, despite the fact we believe these things about our kids and have these conversations about safety, that they still are behaving in ways that are putting them at risk,” Neubauer said.

Sixty-three per cent of girls whose parents are watching their social media activity understand that posting photos of themselves online is risky. By comparison, just  48 per cent of girls whose parents are unaware of their daughters’ online behaviour said it was risky to post photos.

Asked about their friends, 59 per cent of 12 to 16-year-old girls said they have friends who have done unsafe things online. Fewer than four in 10 girls (38 per cent) estimate that their parents are “very aware” of their social media activity.

With permission from their parents, the study questioned 501 girls between 12 and 16 between April 1 and April 9 this year. Covenant House, which serves homeless and trafficked youth, combined the survey results with focus group conversations with sex traffic survivors and with teenage girls.

“They (the survivors) told us that if they had had the ability to have the conversations with their parents long before the exploitation took place, their likelihood of becoming entrenched in sex trafficking would have been greatly reduced,” said Neubauer. 

“If they felt they were comfortable going to their parents without fear of blame, without fear of embarrassment, without fear of shaming, that they never would have become involved in the first place.”

Information from the study will be used by the Covenant House runaway prevention department to beef up their travelling school workshop called “Trafficked.”

Covenant House is recommending that parents do everything they can to explain to young teens the existence of sex trafficking and the dangers of luring.

“You need to be able to hit the side of a barn with the vocabulary. So use the term sex trafficking. Use the term sexual exploitation,” Neubauer said.

The study showed that once teens were aware of the dangers they modified their behaviour.

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