Talking to Your Kids About Human Trafficking

Author: Dr. Julie. Sorenson, DMFT, MA, LPC

I recently came across some important information regarding human trafficking that I think everyone should be aware of. Human trafficking affects numerous lives by depriving individuals of their freedom and inflicting trauma on both the victims and their families. According to the US Department of State 2023 report, approximately 27.6 million people have fallen victim to human trafficking.


Contrary to popular belief, human trafficking doesn't always involve physically transporting individuals from one place to another. It encompasses various forms of exploitation, including labor and sex trafficking. The perpetrators often use manipulation, coercion, and violence to control vulnerable individuals.


It's important to note that human trafficking can impact people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses. Many victims do not seek help due to factors such as lack of awareness of their situation, language barriers, fear of law enforcement, and overall vulnerability.

Regarding online safety, it's crucial to protect our children from potential human trafficking threats. Statistics show that up to 90% of human trafficking recruitment happens through social media platforms and apps. To safeguard our children, we should monitor their online activities, educate them about online safety, and encourage open communication about uncomfortable subjects.


Moreover, it's alarming to learn that a significant number of human trafficking victims go unnoticed, even in healthcare settings. Healthcare professionals and individuals in public-facing roles should be vigilant for signs of trafficking. Keeping your kids safe is your biggest concern as a parent. Websites like protect young eyes can assist with apps and websites and teach you how to keep your child safe online. The internet can be a vulnerable area for kids and up to 90% of human trafficking recruitment is done through social media platforms and apps (Perdue, 2021). Ways to keep your child safe online:

  • Monitor their web history, phones usage, who they are talking to
  • Teach them to be aware of their surroundings.
  • Talk to them about difficult and uncomfortable subjects.
  • Actively listen to them and effectively communicate.
  • Dig deeper into conversations, not everything is at face value.
  • Pay attention to your instincts.
  • Teach your child to keep their information private such as (where you live, work, go to school and details about your personal life).
  • Have discussion on internet safety.
  • If your child is feeling threated make sure you have safe adults they can talk to if they don’t want to share things with you.
  • Do research on job offers (is the company legit)
  • If they are older and are meeting someone for the first time talk to them about meeting in public well-lit areas
  • Teach them to trust their instincts.
  • How to call for help
  • Who is on their emergency contact list if you can’t be reached.

If you suspect human trafficking, it's essential to report it to the relevant authorities or contact the Human Trafficking Hotline immediately. Always remember that human traffickers can be dangerous, so it's crucial to seek help from the proper authorities rather than intervening personally. Many human trafficking victims are treated in emergency rooms, clinics or doctor offices for physical injury, prenatal care, mental health, addiction, or routine follow up care (Withers, 2023). However, studies have indicated half of the victims are unrecognized (Withers, 2023). Healthcare professionals, school personnel and anyone working with the public can look for symptoms such as, but not limited to:

  • Acute medical concerns
  • Malnutrition
  • Lack of sleep
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Headaches,
  • Mental health complaints
  • Pain
  • Trauma
  • Sexual assault
  • Physical abuse.
  • Dirty clothing
  • Unkept appearance
  • Withdrawn
  • Answer appeared scripted or rehearsed
  • Lack of communication
  • Tattoos, branding


It is required for mandated professionals to report any suspicion of abuse. However, if you are not a mandated reporter you can also contact 911 or the Human Trafficking Hotline number if you suspect human trafficking at 1-888-373-7888 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Remember human traffickers are dangerous an you should never approach them by yourself leave that to the authorities but making a call could save a life. Mellissa Withers, Ph.D., M.H.S.


Lastly, if you or someone you know has been affected by human trafficking, seeking support from local counselors can greatly assist in processing the trauma and beginning the healing process.


Enrile, A, 2022, The Role of Trauma in Human Trafficking. Is sex work really a choice that should be supported? Psychology Today

Blue Campaign, 2023

National Human Trafficking Hotline

Withers, M, 2016, Psychological Tactics Used by Human Traffickers, A look at seven common manipulation tactics used by traffickers. Psychology Today

Withers, M, 2021, Protect Your Children from Human Traffickers, Psychology Today

Withers, M, 2023, Identifying Human Trafficking Victims in Healthcare Settings. Physicians can avoid another wasted opportunity to identify victims. Psychology Today US Department of State,right%20in%20front%20of%20us.

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