If you are reading this and you feel that you or someone you know are being groomed online or might be a victim of trafficking, it is not your nor their fault and you are not alone. You can contact The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline 24/7 at 1.833.900.1010 or by chat. We are here for you.
Our last blog post talked about some of the tactics used by traffickers on social media to lure and groom youth into sexual exploitation. This week, The Centre offers parents and youth some useful safety tips when it comes to social media use.
1. Safety tips for teenagers:
Using social media is a great and convenient way for many of us to connect with friends, read the news, learn new skills, or discover new interests. Unfortunately, traffickers and those looking to exploit people, sexually or otherwise, know that we are more active than ever on social media and use this to their advantage. Below are some tips that may be helpful to ensure that you, and your loved ones, are using social media safely. However, it is difficult to be safe if you are not yet aware of what to look for that may lead to harm. That’s why we also recommend you take a few moments to read our last blog post, which will help you recognize some of the techniques used by traffickers to lure people into sexual exploitation
Here are some tips you can use when on social media:
- Try to keep your profile private as doing so will limit the access to your content by strangers. It is also recommended to avoid adding/sharing personal information like your date of birth, your phone number, your address or the name of the school you attend on your account.
- When adding friends or followers to social media accounts, consider how you know them and avoid accepting requests from strangers. Similarly, if someone who you do not personally know messages or begins a chat with you, and they are asking more personal questions, we recommend that you do not continue the conversation. Also remember, it is okay to ask questions about how someone might know you before accepting a message or a request to friend or follow.
- If you receive a direct message from a friend or a stranger or if you are tagged/mentioned in a post and it makes you feel uncomfortable you should: block the sender, save a copy of the message/post and tell an adult you trust.
- Try to be mindful of the things that you share on social media and who would have access to that content. Traffickers might use the information on your page/profile to create a bond of shared interests, for example.
Always be mindful if sharing videos or photos that are sexual or private. Traffickers are experts in creating a space where individuals can feel safe, only to later use that sense of safety and trust to further manipulate and exploit people – this includes using blackmail and threats to distribute videos or photos initially shared only with them. This is a crime, and it is on the rise in Canada.
If you have shared information or photos with someone and they used that against you as a threat, or if you have been victimized by a trafficker or another individual in your life, you are not to blame and what happened to you if not your fault. It can be lonely and difficult to go through these situations alone and if you have not yet shared your story with anyone, we encourage you to explain what happened to a trusted adult.
Another helpful resource is Needhelpnow.ca. They have collection of resources and information to stop the spread of sexual pictures or videos, and create or maintain healthy relationships online and in person.
2. Safety tips for parents of teenagers:
- Educating your child about the risks of online luring is the most important and most effective practice against sex trafficking and online exploitation. It is important for young people to be aware that online luring happens and what it can look like. It is also essential to leave an open door for ongoing conversations with your child. If you would like some tips to know how to talk to you children about this topic, you can consult this resource for Parenting Tweens and Teens in the Digital World or visit ca.
- As a parent, be mindful about your own use of social media. Traffickers may look for information about your children by scrolling through your pictures or your account if it is public. Be careful about sharing names of schools and addresses, for example.
- As a parent, you are often highly aware of changes to their behaviour and emotions. As you notice these changes, its important to ask questions in curious non-accusatory ways, about what might be happening in their day-to-day, particularly if you notice your child being online more than in the past, dressing differently, receiving gifts, going out later or not saying where they are going. Some changes can be attributed to natural growth and developmental stages as they age, other changes could be due to the stresses of COVID-19, however even if your child doesn’t want to engage in the conversation in that moment, its okay to ask again later, and asking questions can open the door for future conversations. It may be helpful to recognize that traffickers will often try to create isolation between an individual and their support networks, this may impact how receptive your child is to having this conversation. Remind your child that you care and that whenever they want to talk, you are there. Consider referring back to The Centre’s past blog post on ‘Why its so hard to leave’ for more information on the role of isolation in sex trafficking.
- Depending on the age of your child, it may be important that the parent figure maintain some oversight over the child’s social media accounts by being aware of their passwords, or by installing some type of parental control settings. If you want to understand what the most used social media platforms are and how they work, please don’t hesitate to click on these links: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok.
- Make sure your child’s accounts are set private and not public. Sometimes, kids allow strangers to follow them even if their account is private to have extra followers. If possible, we would recommend screening your child’s follower/friends on social media. It is important to ask you kids who the person is that is following them and if they don’t know who it is or can’t say who it is, then should have a conversation about why this might be dangerous and block that account.