How to Identify Online Predation
By Josie Bixler
In 2018, Congress passed the Fight Against Online Sexual Trafficking Act (FOSTA) to keep website owners accountable for any illegal content published on their site.
FOSTA effectively shut down Backpage, the most popular site used to advertise escort services at the time. Backpage was used as a forum for 73% of child trafficking cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Although Backpage was shut down and can no longer be used to exploit children, there are still many other sites being used in the same way. Victims of trafficking are advertised in plain sight alongside real sex workers and no one can tell the difference.
Online trafficking is increasingly prevalent as more and more children spend unsupervised time online. The pandemic has only entrenched this growing trend and we need to be prepared to avoid trafficking tactics and identify them when they are happening to ourselves, our children, our neighbors or friends.
>> Know Grooming Techniques
• Constant Communication – traffickers and predators aim to become the focus of your attention, isolating you from outside help. When beginning the grooming process they are likely to send you lots and lots of messages.
• Keep It A Secret – preying on vulnerabilities, traffickers do not want outside interference with the mind games they are trying to play. Traffickers want to build trust with their target and create distrust about their target’s support people.
• Learn Personal Information – traffickers are constantly doing damage control and scoping out the likelihood of their success. They will try to find out how supervised a child may be to gauge how likely they are to be caught. If they gauge that there is low risk of being caught, traffickers often begin to pry for personal information like school info, addresses, current location or personal secrets.
• Send Sexual Material – after traffickers or predators build a base of trust and communication they may start to give out increasingly sexualized comments about their targets appearance and ask leading questions about their target’s sexual history. The trafficker may even send explicit material and use that to demand their target send something of equal value back.
• Blackmail – the moment you send a photo or video, you have lost control of what the recipient will do with it. Traffickers will manipulate and coerce their targets to this point and then use whatever was sent and secrets they’ve learned about their victim to blackmail them into continually complying. This starts the cycle of exploitation.
Be aware of these grooming tactics so that you can protect yourself, your kids and those in your sphere of influence. The anonymity of the online environment can make it seem harmless to engage with predators or look past red flags, but it becomes a slippery slope quite quickly.
Save a copy of this post to stay literate in trafficking techniques that are targeting real kids in your own community. Share this information to keep those you love informed and internet savvy. Your awareness and willingness to ask questions can be the saving difference between slavery and freedom.