Parents, you’ve done a great job of telling your kids not to talk to strangers. They’ve gotten the message. Unfortunately, however, so have traffickers, and they’ve come up with some really devious ways to get around it.
Linda is 13 years old and is running away from home. She’s at the bus station, where traffickers troll for runaways, and they can spot them at 50 paces. They immediately zero in on her, stand near the ticket counter so they can hear her destination, and just by coincidence, of course, buy a ticket for the same bus. And again, just by coincidence, one of them sits down next to her.
The bus leaves, and he starts groping her. She puts his hands back where they belong and says, “Excuse me?” A few minutes later, he gropes her again. “Mister, keep your hands to yourself!”
The guy across the aisle gets mad. “Hey, buddy, you heard what she said, keep your goddam hands to yourself.”
“Hey, I’m just having a little fun with a pretty girl.”
“Well, the pretty girl doesn’t think it’s any fun. So stop it.”
Ten minutes later, he gropes her again.
This time, the big guy across the aisle stands up, grabs him by the collar, and says, “You idiot, I told you to leave that kid alone. Here. You’re going to sit in my seat, and I’m going to sit next to her.” He thrusts the groper into his own seat and sits down.
“Oh, thank you sir, that is so nice of you,” she says.
“Think nothing of it, kid, I have a daughter of my own.”
Linda has no idea that the whole incident has been a set-up and that the two guys are actually brothers. But she feels comfortable speaking to the “hero” because he has broken the “stranger barrier.” By the time they reach their destination, he has all the information he needs to turn her into a statistic.
Have you told your kids not to talk to heroes? Of course not. You’ve raised them to be polite and appreciative. When someone does something nice for them, they know that they should thank them. But – in so doing, they have started a conversation with a stranger.
Traffickers know how to create a problem, then “gallantly” offer to fix it. There’s the decades-old technique of the flat tire in the mall parking lot: tell your kids to call Mom or Dad and not accept help from a stranger.
Or, “Can you please help me find my lost puppy? He went over there in the woods somewhere and I can’t find him.” This is often used on younger children.
Of course, your own kids will be too savvy to fall for these techniques, but (wink wink) they have naïve friends who might, so let your kids know about them so they can alert their friends.
Next time: Runaways are at extreme risk