SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – Social media is a dominant force in our world today, including the world of human trafficking.
And two Springfield-based organizations are trying to get the message out to parents and children.
“A lot of adults have this false narrative about what student sex trafficking looks like in America today,” said Russ Tuttle, the founder/president of the Stop Trafficking Project. “It’s not about kidnapping where a scary vehicle pulls up and abducts a child off the street. What really matters is the seduction. And that seduction is 100% happening online.
That’s why Tuttle and his organization are teaming up with another local group, Stand Against Trafficking, to visit all Catholic schools in Springfield this week to educate students and their parents about the dangers of what can happen to young people. on line.
The presentations have already been made in many other schools in the state and are different and age appropriate for the different grades (K-12).
“It’s a tough subject, but one that needs to be talked about,” said St. Agnes sixth-grade teacher Cam Branson. “The gravity of the situation makes it one of those things that is uncomfortable to talk about.”
Starting out so young may seem awkward, but exposure to social media happens at an early age. There is a cultural craze where becoming an online “influencer” and having many “followers” is an important part of social status and self-image.
“Students brag about having 2,000 followers,” Branson said. “They are 13 years old and do not know 2,000 people. So they give access to their personal life to random people they have never met.
“Most people are unaware of its prevalence in southwestern Missouri,” said Rikki Barton, president of Stand Against Trafficking. “But just last week, two people from Springfield were convicted of child sex trafficking crimes. They recruited a girl here in Springfield and asked her to help recruit some friends. There are a lot of predators going online to find the vulnerabilities of young people. »
So how can a young child exploit their vulnerabilities to the point of being sold for sex?
“It deals with issues of loneliness, isolation and depression in our children,” Tuttle replied. “And more and more, we’re seeing suicide rates skyrocket because they’re being bullied online, getting into various controlling relationships, and getting involved in pornography, which is the driver of sex trafficking. “
“Those involved in this industry are very well trained,” Barton added. “They know how to carry on a conversation and get information that leads them to send a photo or send something that would be used against them.”
“Then at some point that person online, usually posing as a child of the same age as the child they are looking for, will want to meet in person,” Tuttle continued. “It’s no different than a criminal who kills the neighborhood before he robs the neighborhood. There are people online poking at our kids, trying to find out what their limits are.
And as organizations traveled the state with their education program, they learned more about these borders.
“Of the 70,000 students we gave presentations to, about a third of students told us in a survey that they had met a stranger in person they first met online or actively shared nudes of themselves via social media,” Tuttle says. “Those are two of the common denominators that we want to eliminate before they start. And what’s amazing is that when we have these school assemblies, the kids say, ‘Thank you for coming today and telling us the truth.’
Tuttle also has separate presentations for parents.
“We don’t want parents to live in fear of online life, but to be wise about it,” Tuttle explained. “We also need parents to step up and be parents and stop trying to be best friends with their children by giving them unlimited, unsupervised online access. This is a dangerous place because there are has pervs, predators, pimps or traffickers preying on our children online. We don’t need parents to be tech savvy because you will never be aware of the latest apps. You need to just know that if an online feature has a chat application, children can be exploited there.
Both organizations have websites you can check for more information.
“On our website, we have over 100 pages of self-help articles,” Tuttle said. “We also have an app in partnership with another organization called Relentless Pursuit, and we created this app as a tool for parents that has videos and other helpful resources.”
“We hold presentations and training for anyone who wants to have one,” Barton said. “You can go to our website and request a presentation or information as well as see a webinar from Russ Tuttle. Do not hesitate to contact us if you would like training in your company, organization or church. We would be delighted to give you a presentation.
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