A Hard Look at the Reality of Sex Trafficking and Social Media Exploitation

By Opal Singleton
With Intro by RCNS/SCNS

Internationally renowned author and radio show host Opal Singleton, who is President and CEO of MillionKids.org and Board Member and Director of Development for Rapha House International, has spent much of her life combating sex trafficking while training countless law enforcement officials worldwide regarding the dangers of sex trafficking, sexual exploitation, sextortion, and other related issues.

Opal Singleton

“Few victims ever understand the impact of the decisions they are making when they start down the path of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation,” Singleton has told RCNS/SCNS. “Even fewer understand how to get out of ‘the life’ of sexual exploitation once they become victims.”

“Often a teen will meet a new-found love on the Internet and they run off with them,” explained Singleton. “Sometimes they are dating an older guy who is manipulating them into a life of commercial sex.”

“In all cases, the result is sexual exploitation,” added Singleton.

To help combat the effects of child sex trafficking and educate first responders as well as the general public about how widespread and pervasive the problem of sexual exploitation of minors is, MillionKids.org works diligently with groups around the world to end the abuses and horrors faced by the victims of sex trafficking daily.

To help explain the issues that lead to sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of teens and other victims, Singleton says there are things every parent should know and look for.

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Online Enticement

It is when someone purposely communicates with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense like sextortion (blackmail over a naked image), sexual exploitation including child porn, or abduction possibly leading to sex trafficking. (Note: In California, if you are engaged in commercial sex/prostitution and are under the age of 18 it is called sex trafficking.)

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) received 37,872 reports of online enticement in the U.S. in 2020 (up from 19,174 in 2019) and 98% of victims said they did not know the offender offline. NCMEC also registered 17,000 reports of possible child sex trafficking. One in six of the kids reported missing or runaways were likely victims of sex trafficking. It is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. (California is usually the number one state) and three out of four victims are U.S. citizens.

Sex Trafficking

Almost never does it involve kidnapping like you see in the movies, although that can happen (especially in familial incidents), but for 99% of local sex trafficking cases it is usually a girl being lured (“groomed”) into an online fantasy relationship. The victim messages and chats with the offender on the internet. The offender builds a rapport and relationship. Eventually the victim may sneak out to meet the offender in person and then poof the victim is missing.

For the girl it often starts out looking like a boyfriend and she plans a future with him. Then it leads to sexual exploitation: “I just need you to do this for my friend”, or “I’m short of money”. It escalates and he’ll start beating her up and she is given a daily quota – often up to $1,000 a day. If the girl doesn’t make enough money she may not get to eat. He’ll cut her off from her family and friends. She’ll find out she may just be one of three or four other girls he is controlling. If the pimp is part of a gang, she may get traded within the gang, and she may be traded between gangs.

They’ll move her around, motel to motel to motel. She’ll be advertised online and won’t know what name she is being sold under, even what town she is in. She’ll be locked in a motel room, monitored continuously, waiting for her next sex buyer, threatened if she tries to escape and all money turned over to the pimp. She is feeling degraded and embarrassed. The situation is shame-based and it is similar to domestic violence in that the offender makes the girl feel any violence is her fault, “if you had made your quota I wouldn’t have to beat you up”. The girl blames herself and believes there is no one she can turn to for help.

Sextortion

Another example of online enticement is sextortion. Kids will meet someone on the internet who asks for a naked photo. It is amazing how many will actually send out a photo. From there the offender begins to threaten and blackmail them for more sexually explicit photos and videos and in some cases even money. (It is important for teens to know, with sexting so prevalent, that having explicit or naked images of anyone under the age of eighteen is illegal – even if the image was taken or given with consent.)

The CDC has said that 18,000 kids a day are sending a naked photo online. The University of Florida’s research shows 9,000 kids a day are being blackmailed and the University of Toledo, Ohio said that 58% of them will go out and meet up with the blackmailer to try to get their image back (without telling mom and dad) where they often get further violated or assaulted.

Prevention

How do we prevent it happening to our kids? Start with honest communication from an early age. Talk about technology. It isn’t good or bad, but there are people who use it for bad things. Importantly we have to talk about sex before giving them access. Ask who owns the Internet and help them to understand it isn’t private. Talk about if they have ever thought where naked photos go when they hit send or who is watching their provocative dance on TikTok. Do they understand anything posted or sent can end up being seen by anyone – even predators. Do they know what to do when they get a comment/message from a stranger telling them how beautiful/sexy they are? (They should know to immediately delete it. Even with privacy settings on, most social media apps still have ways for strangers to interface with children.)

Stay on top of the video games they are playing, who they are chatting with and what apps they are using. Limit access to social media until age appropriate. Keep electronic devices where everyone can see them (no bedrooms), and no access to phones after bedtime. You may seem like the “mean” parent but when you consider the alternatives, you have to protect and stay on top of it for them.

What To Watch For

Parents should watch for changes in behavior – you know your kids better than anyone else. Are they starting to cut themselves? They can’t sleep or are always tired. They become withdrawn, change their friends, their clothing or quit their extracurricular activities. They are missing school. You walk into the room and they quickly close their device or put it away. They may quit eating for no reason. Maybe they start to run away. Don’t assume it is teen rebellion and spend the time to dig deeper. Sit down with them, you can calmly ask them if they have a naked photo on the internet or something more. It may be a tough conversation but much less tough than having your child disappear or be exploited.

SEE OTHER RCNS/SCNS ARTICLES RELATED TO OPAL SINGLETON:

Opal Singleton and Million Kids – Working to change the lives of human-trafficking victims worldwide

Symposium to focus on human trafficking, sexploitation, other-related-issues

Anderson underage prostitution sting nets three predators

Eleven suspected prostitutes swept up in Temecula sting

Norco anti-human trafficking prostitution sting nets 20

What To Do

If your child has been enticed or is being groomed, what parents need to understand is you aren’t arguing with your child or the offender, you are arguing with a fantasy the offender is creating. And when parents go to war with a fantasy they will lose. Remove your child’s blinders by asking questions that will lead them to realize they don’t know who this person is really.

If you think there is online enticement, even if you aren’t sure, it is important to contact local law enforcement (what is happening to your child may be part of a larger investigation). Report it to the app or video game company, and report it to NCMEC at 1.800.843.5678 or at www.cybertipline.org (they can also help get explicit images off the web). Your child (and you as parents) may need counseling to deal with the trauma. Don’t be afraid to get additional support.

Parents should understand their kids are connected to the entire world and the entire world is connected to them. They live in a world where they could have one million followers with 24/7 access. We all have to step from behind a veil of denial and educate and empower them to live in a world without borders and in homes without walls.

View our website at MillionKids.org where we offer much more information and educational training. Or feel free to reach out to us via the website or be emailing info@millionkids.org. If you are interested in a presentation, please email MillionKids at info@MillionKids.org or call (951) 323-0298.

Prevention • Education • Intervention • Support

MillionKids.org’s mission is to prevent child exploitation by empowering every kid, and those who interact with kids, through education on predators and to intervene by providing support services to those families and children in crisis.

Find MillionKids online at: MillionKids.org
Find Insider Alerts online at: InsiderAlerts.org
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Contact the editor: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

Trevor Montgomery, 49, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source (RCNS) and Shasta County News Source (SCNS).

Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County-based newspapers Valley News, Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; the Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County; and Mountain Echo in Shasta County. He is also a regular contributor to Thin Blue Line TV and Law Enforcement News Network and has had his stories featured on news stations throughout the Southern California and North State regions.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 30 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 18 grandchildren.

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