This blog post is Part 6 of our Back-to-School Series on Human Trafficking. To read the previous blog, click here.
Pimps are master manipulators. They are talented actors and salespeople and target girls who are emotionally vulnerable. From promising to help pay for basic needs or provide extravagances, pimps are skilled and accomplished at reading people and knowing just what to say and offer to get a girl’s attention. A pimp can make a girl may feel loved, beautiful and spoiled with indulgences like trendy clothes and shoes, expensive hairstyling, manicures and pedicures, tattoos, designer purses, hotel stays and eating at restaurants, or travel to new and exciting places. Ultimately, the girl feels like she owes him something in return.
Pimps usually begin contact with a compliment. Pretending to be a talent scout, or modeling agent, initial contact may start with “Girl, you are so pretty, you should be a model.” Or, “I know a guy who is looking for a girl just like you to be in his music video.” Compliments turn to romantic attention, then graduate to physical affection, and ultimately earn “boyfriend status” with includes physical intimacy. Eventually the pimp will “flip the switch” and ask his girl to do the unimaginable.
Pimps often invest a lot of time and energy into finding the perfect victim. They have been known to frequent areas where teen girls like to hang out – the mall, concerts, park, bus stops outside of high schools, popular fast food establishments, bars and coffee shops. Pimps also shop for their victims online. They are mass consumers of popular social media and “friend” or “follow” or “like photos” of potential victims on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other popular sites.
Parents should be vigilant of their child’s location after school and during the weekend, and monitor social media to make sure that their teen isn’t over-sharing personal information. Today’s teens are socialized from an early age to crave “likes” and “followers” on social media. They can be careless with such functions as “check in” or provide detailed itinerary and road map of their current location with constant status updating and photo sharing. They must be taught never to “friend” a stranger or offer to meet someone unfamiliar who they have met on social media in person.
Teens who hang out with their friends unsupervised for long stretches are more vulnerable than those who have somewhere to go or something to do. Know where your teen is –you have a right to know where she is at all times, and can easily track her cell phone with a simple “find my phone” app. If she has an “older boyfriend” who is not from her school or social sphere, you should question where and how she met him.
Parents and teens alike should trust their instincts. If something “feels” wrong, it probably is. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. “What if?” questions are a great opportunity to practice scenarios with your teen. Role playing is a powerful way to teach kids how to handle difficult situations. These “what would you do” conversations may help ease apprehension about the topic. “What would you do if a good looking guy came up to you at the mall and told you that he wanted you to take some pictures for his modeling business?” You will probably hear, “Oh mom, seriously?” In the end, it is better to upset your teen so that she thinks twice when potentially faced with a dangerous situation.
Angelyn Bayless is the author of multiple training brochures on the topic of sex trafficking, including “How to Talk to Your Kids about Human Trafficking” and “Teen Sex Trafficking: Make a Difference by Understanding the Issue, Recognizing the Warning Signs and Knowing How to Seek Help.” She is Director of Communications for Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research and serves as the local coordinator of CEASE Phoenix Metro, one of 11 pioneering cities working to reduce demand for prostitution.