In a sickening new twist in teen-on-teen sexual exploitation, three Canadian teens girls (two 15-year-olds and one 17-year-old) are charged with human trafficking by luring other teen girls through social media services, asking to meet up at a housing complex and then forcing them into prostitution.
According to ABC news, “three separate incidents were identified in which three female victims, ranging from 13 to 17 years old, were lured to a housing complex in Ottawa and then forcibly driven to other locations for prostitution purposes.” …[Ottawa Police Staff Sgt. John] McGetrick said that “social media was a factor” in planning the initial meetings arranged between the suspects and the victims. He told ABCNews.com that the suspects and the victims were “vaguely known to each other,” but were not friends. “The meetings were intended to do an enjoyable activity, let’s say, hang out,” he said. “There was no ill-intention in the invite. Obviously things changed once that happened.”
Shockingly, police do not believe that adults were involved in the trafficking ring; it looks as if this was entirely the creation of the three girls.
In addition to human trafficking charges, these girls are charged with robbery, procuring, forcible confinement, sexual assault, assault, uttering threats and abduction, yet because they are minors, McGetrick believes the teens will be tried as juveniles and only face up to 3 years in prison.
This isn’t the first case of teens leveraging technology and online services to sexually exploit others, in 2010 a 17-year-old was arrested for pimping a hooker through Craigslist, and there are reports that teen girls in the UK deliberately set up meetings between pedophiles they’d found online and girls they didn’t like in the hopes these girls would be exploited.
But this case is, as far as we know, unique in the deliberation shown in befriending and grooming their victims, the logistical complexity of arranging these abductions, and the sophistication in finding men interested in raping young girls and arranging the meetings with these ‘johns’.
Takeaway for parents
Teens virtually meet other teens online every day, and it can seem particularly innocuous when the teens are remotely connected as they apparently were in this case. Most of the time, these friendships are harmless, in many cases they have very positive and lasting benefits that should be encouraged. So how do you spot and mitigate risks to prevent tragedies like those reported here from occurring?
- Talk and keep talking. You should know and understand the services your teens are using and who their interacting with. That doesn’t mean reading all their comments, but it does mean making sure the conversations are healthy, and it does mean discussing situations where even when everything seems fine – as it surely did for the victims in this case – things may not be as they seem.
- Make sure your teen knows they can NEVER EVER meet someone or a group of people for the first time alone or in a private place. Meetings need to occur in public places when other people are around. Ideally you go with them to meet the other teen and that teen’s parents. At a bare minimum you need to know where and when they’re meeting and how to contact the person their meeting up with, AND they should be required to check in with you on a set schedule. This way, any missed call alerts you instantly to take action.
How you negotiate that your kids always tell you before meeting anyone is critical. With 4 young adult children I’ve lived this compromise with each of them during their teens.
They thought I was paranoid, but we framed it this way – they wanted to do something; and I needed to know they were safe. Then we negotiated a solution that both of us could live with. This gave my teens a way to do what they wanted – meet up – and minimized my anxiety.
In each case my teens were fairly sarcastic when they called to check in, and it was clear whomever they met up with knew exactly what the calls were about because in the background of the “hi mom, just want you to know I’m ok, the friend really is my age and not an old pervert” I could hear laughing, but I was more than fine with that, and I knew exactly where to find my teen, I knew they were ok, and equally important, the person they met knew I was monitoring their meeting.
Fortunately the vast majority of people we, and our teens, meet online are wonderful, respectful people who have represented themselves and their intentions honestly.
For the fraction of cases that are malicious, the talks and the safety rules need to be in place.
To learn more about human trafficking and the internet see my blogs:
- Gang Members Charged with Recruiting Teens Online for Prostitution
- 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends and The Internet
- Human Trafficking on Backpage.com Under Fire By Attorneys General
- Human trafficking Top Initiative for Incoming NAAG President Rob McKenna
- Take 3 Minutes to Protect children from Slavery and Sex Trafficking
- ‘Women to Go’ Shop Drives Trafficking Awareness in Israel; What You Can do in Your Community
- Craigslist Under Fire Again for Child Sexual Exploitation
- Child Trafficking and the Internet
To learn more about meeting online ‘friends’ in person safely see my advice for online daters, and buyers and sellers: