For children in the early 21st century, technology surrounds them. iPods, video games, and cell phones are practically inescapable for children. Along with this is social networking, which for many children is a daily part of their routine. Indeed, social network sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, ooVoo, Tinder, and Twitter, to name a few, are a part of everyday life for children around the globe. Social networking opens up the world to children, as they are able to stay connected to friends and family members from all over. For foster children, it can very much be a benefit as they stay in touch with birth parents and biological family members. Yet, at the same time, there are dangers and risks involved for not only foster children, but for the foster parents, as well.
Social networking is certainly here to stay, as it shows no sign of either being a fad or slowing down. To be sure, for many children, it is the main way of keeping in contact with their peers. Not only can children communicate with friends living nearby, social networking allows them to communicate with those friends living great distances away, friends made at summer camps, sporting events, and other gatherings. These sites permit the user to communicate instantly and without delay, allowing children to develop stronger social skills. So many of these sites also allow children to express themselves on their own "homepage," giving them an outlet to discuss ideas that interest them, as well as be introduced to other interests from friends.
A dark little secret, though, in America today is that of human sex trafficking. Many in society either are not aware of it, or refuse to acknowledge its existence in our nation, and around the world, today. It is emerging more each year as an area of grave concern for law enforcement and legal professionals, as well as those who work with social services, particularly those who work with foster children. Shockingly, between 100,000-300,000 children are exploited commercially in our nation for purposes of sex each year, many of these children being shipped, or trafficked, across international borders each year. For these thousands of children, a life of horror and danger is forced upon them as they serve as prostitutes for local and global criminal organizations. Thousands of other children are sold into slavery by those who profess to love them the most; their family members. How large is the problem? Disturbingly, human trafficking generates more than 32 billion a year, which is third only to drug and arms trafficking. Roughly 2 million children are exploited in this manner across the globe.
Children who fall victim to the sexual exploitation of human trafficking tend to come from several different backgrounds. They may be runaways and victims of prior sexual abuse; homeless; children looking to belong and hoping to find acceptance; children from foster care, looking for someone to give them the love they never got while with their birth family; or children who have been victimized in other fashions and are seeking love and a sense of belonging. Indeed, human traffickers may target large facilities, such as large foster care group homes, where they are able to locate a greater number of children who are defenseless, vulnerable, and hurting, thus easier targets to victimize, lure, and exploit.
Most prostituted youth today come from environments where they have already been sexually abuse. To be sure, the majority of children in America who are exploited sexually have already endured a life of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Indeed, the contributor to a child entering into a life of child sex trafficking is a prior life of sexual abuse. Along with this, many of these children who have already been exposed to sexual abuse have problems with low self esteem, and do not receive the educational opportunities they deserve. To me, these sound like our foster children, don't you think? Foster children often come from environments of these forms of abuse. Teens that age out of the foster care system are also more likely to end up homeless, and may choose a life style of prostitution in order to "make ends meet," financially, so to speak. These youth are more inclined to be placed into foster homes or group homes, and are also more likely to run away. Pimps also attract foster children by targeting them in group homes, promising them gifts, a sense of belonging, and a place where they will be loved, as well as encouraging them with presents and gifts, all while grooming them for a life as a child prostitute.
Seeing that the Internet is highly unregulated, and difficult to police, child predators and human traffickers use the technological platform for their sexually criminal behavior with little risk of prosecution. Furthermore, those who have exploited children through human trafficking and child pornography are able to share both their experiences and their "merchandise," so to speak, internationally via the World Wide Web. With this use of the internet, these sexual perpetrators can do so in quick fashion, with little difficulty, and with a global market. Indeed, the internet has made it easier for traffickers to exploit these children, as the audience can be easily reached through social network sites, websites, cell phones, and other online venues.
Indeed, social networking is a whole new world for all involved; a world that can be both wonderful and dangerous at the same time. Much more information and research is needed before the social network explosion engulfs all children, everywhere.
Now, I need your help in helping other children in need. Please join me. Together we can provide a home for more children. I need your help. They need your help. It is Never Too Late for a happy childhood. It is never too late for a child to start healing and find love. Help me protect more children, and provide a loving place where they can find healing HERE.
***Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 13 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 45 children come through their home. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several foster care books, including the brand new book Love and Mayhem: One Big Happy Family's Story of Fostering and Adoption. Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John, He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website.
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