An 11-year-old girl is playing an online game through social media as she has done many times before. She has always enjoyed conversations with another "14-year-old" gamer in the chat feature of the game. After some harmless flirtation back and forth, the boy asks for a nude photo of part of her body. Thinking it was just a playful act and though very nervous she decides to proceed, after all what's the harm? A week goes by, and they are gaming together again and the "14-year-old boy" asks for something a bit more risqué, and of course she refuses. He then proceeds to tell her that if she doesn't comply, he will send the previous photo to all her friends including her parents and that she will get into big trouble. And thus begins a 6-month journey of SEXTORTION - the act of fraud and coercion used by perpetrators and traffickers to trap young, naïve girls and boys into a life they never thought possible.
My name is Al Meyers serving Cattaraugus County in the role of Safe Harbor Coordinator through Connecting Communities in Action. After several years of working hard to contact schools, agencies, and community businesses regarding this topic of the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, I am still amazed at how many parents, business owners, teachers, social workers and clergy still believe that this "kind of thing" only happens in big cities. That fallacy of course is quickly put to rest when one realizes the ease at which online predators can access young people through apps and the gaming chat rooms to almost any online activity where he or she might be connected to other players around the world.
Sure, maybe some parents can hold off on getting any device for their youngster for a few years, but eventually that young person will have access to the Internet. If they are not educated properly, they could potentially open themselves up to getting trapped or manipulated in some way by an online predator.
January highlights the Human Trafficking Prevention Movement to bring about awareness and help parents protect their children. This year perhaps we as a community could prepare our kids with the appropriate internal tools necessary to resist and report ANYONE who begins to take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Please reach out to me if I can be of assistance to your school, youth group, or family. And may we all work together to pave the way for future generations. The more you know, the more you'll see!
Safe Harbor Coordinator
Connecting Communities in Action