15 May Kids: Our Endangered Species
Let’s start with make-believe part, first. In suspense stories, there’s usually a victim; someone in great danger. Then there’s a potential hero, someone who, often against great odds, has to decide to come to the rescue. That’s the familiar formula. In the 13 suspense novels I’ve published, most have followed that kind of creative architecture, with minor variations. But, this isn’t just fiction: there are real child victims out there, and you and I just might be the real-life heroes in the story.
Earlier this year I was working on my next novel – The Empowered – the sequel to the first in my Trevor Black series, The Occupied, and I was researching the subject of human trafficking, particularly that rotten world of child sexual exploitation. That’s when the dots started forming for me. You know, the kind of picture that forms when you’re sitting in a cubicle in a car dealership for instance, and you’re drumming your fingers, waiting for the salesman to finish the paperwork, and you look up at that piece of cheap “art” on the wall and the mass of abstract colored dots inside the frame, and you suddenly realize that the dots – if you study them – have actually formed the face of some familiar movie star, or some famous persona. From the pattern, something has emerged.
For me, here was the ugly picture that emerged from my research: child trafficking is well on its way to becoming an international plague. There is this brutal appetite – practically Canaanite in its barbarism – that threatens kids, especially runaways. Take this story out of Missouri, as an example, that broke just days ago: a 14 year old runaway who is alleged to have been taken in by an adult, force-fed drugs, and was about to be shuttled to a different city to “make money” for her apparent pimp when the police were able to track her down. http://www.kspr.com/content/news/child-sex-trafficking-mccaw-422351623.html. That’s the quintessential pattern.
The numbers are staggering. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) cites FBI stats that some 465,000 kids went missing in 2016, up by thousands from the year before. 818 kids are missing in D.C. alone so far this year. http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Growing-Problem-of-Child-Sex-Trafficking-Highlighted-421690703.html Even worse, NCMEC’s figures are that 1 out of every 6 child runaways stands a good chance of being dragged into the quick sand of sex trafficking. http://www.missingkids.org/keyfacts Last year 1,036 child victims were identified in ICE and Homeland Security child exploitation and sex tourism investigations, and according to ICE’s office in just one city – St. Paul, MN – there have been 71 criminal indictments.
Now comes the hero part: my work with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and with Internet child-safety groups like Enough is Enough has shown me the dark, dangerous underbelly of the web, which is the fastest-growing marketing ploy for child enticement. In our families, we need to use every parental safety device known to technology in order to control, and monitor children’s use, not just of the hyper-traditional Internet platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, but the ones that are indigenous to youth, like Snapchat, Tinder, Vine, and Whisper. Second, we need to find ways to keep our younger kids on an invisible tether without frantically depriving them of the need to experience life, bumps and bruises and all. If we don’t manage that balance, they may end up joining the generation of street-orphans and runaways that are ripe to be grist for the grotesque mill of human trafficking. Simple things, but easy to miss in the chaos of normal life, and certainly easier said than done. On the other hand, who said being a hero was ever easy?
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stats: NCMEC –
1300 Human Trafficking Cases in California in 2016, and 500 arrests in Feb. 2017 alone
14 year old forced into sex trafficking in Laos
2010 to 2014, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiated 4,279 human trafficking investigations, made 5,852 arrests and received 3,252 grand-jury indictments that led to 2,440 convictions. Last year, 1,036 children were identified in ICE and Homeland Security child exploitation and sex tourism investigations, and ICE’s office in St. Paul was responsible for 71 indictments.
818 children missing in D.C. so far this year.
14 year old runaway Missouri