The events industry has certainly been met with its fair share of challenges this year. But just as companies adjust to conducting business in this new world, so too have those who seek to harm our children. It is an unfortunate reality of our work at ECPAT-USA that sex trafficking and exploitation do not decrease – but rather increase – during times of crisis. However, even with this sad fact, there are ways that you can help us in our mission of protecting every child’s right to grow up free from the threat of exploitation.
The Exploitation of Children during times of Crises
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created circumstances that may increase the risk of trafficking, inhibit identification of those who are trafficked and those who survive trafficking, and make it harder to deliver comprehensive services to support survivors’ recovery.”Journal of the American Medical Association
Many of the factors that cause children and their families to become more vulnerable to trafficking have been exacerbated during COVID-19. The past few months have also created a set of unique circumstances that have contributed to the increase in the risk of exploitation for children – especially online.
The Availability of Online Access
For years, traffickers have been using the internet, especially social media sites, to connect with youth. In fact, studies have shown that exploiters can groom children for online sexual activity in as little as 18 minutes. This pandemic has only exacerbated the internet as a channel for sexual exploitation and prompted the FBI to issue a warning about this potential increase in risk.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a 93.33% increase in online enticement reports from January – June 2020 versus the same time period last year. As schools closed and public gatherings were canceled in an effort to contain coronavirus outbreaks, more and more students were left unsupervised, as parents juggled to balance childcare and either working from home or working at jobs that had suddenly become extremely high-risk. As youth turned to the internet for their schooling and to maintain connections with their peers, the opportunities to exploit children through the very sites they frequent – including social media and online video games – have escalated exponentially.
Online Safety Guidelines
As a prevention-focused organization, we knew that it was imperative to create the tools and resources communities and families need to protect children. In March, we began developing no-nonsense online safety guides for youth, parents, and teachers. These include practical ways each group can protect children from exploiters, traffickers, and abusers online. These guides are now available to download for free from our website. In these you will find:
- Information on healthy virtual relationships
- What parents and educators should look for
- Step-by-step instructions on how to change your internet privacy settings for the major social media platforms.
SITE’s role in protecting children
As always, our relationships with the private sector are key to protecting children. And as a Top Member of the Code, SITE has shown continued leadership on and commitment to this issue. You can help us spread awareness of the increase in online exploitation during this time by reading our guides and then updating your privacy settings to protect you and your family. We’re encouraging everyone to read our guides and then take action to end online exploitation. Please share this important information with others in your network.
Protocols and Policies
From a business perspective, it is important to understand that child sex trafficking and exploitation are still happening during these unprecedented times. As your company adjusts to what business looks like these days, be sure that you are still following established anti-trafficking protocols and policies. If your business does not already include a basic policy against human trafficking in its employee handbook, it is imperative that you include one. You should also consider how these policies and values can be communicated externally. Include a clause in contracts to inform partners about the company’s anti-human trafficking and child exploitation policies, and set a zero-tolerance tone for suppliers. If any company is looking for more resources about such policies, we have sample language available on our website.
Perhaps the most important thing an individual or company can do is to help us raise awareness about child sex trafficking in the U.S. There is still a large misconception that sexual exploitation does not affect our communities, even though trafficking has been reported in all 50 states. Raising awareness can mean anything from:
- Hosting a virtual webinar about how the events industry is affected by this issue
- Hosting a fundraiser for organizations that fight trafficking and support survivors
- Planning an event for National Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January.
By engaging as a business on this issue, your team can work together to brainstorm ways you can help others learn how they may be affected by trafficking and signal that your company is a champion for children.
Written by ECPAT-USA
ECPAT-USA is the leading anti-child trafficking organization in the United States seeking to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children through awareness, advocacy, policy, and legislation. ECPAT-USA is a member of ECPAT International, a network of organizations in more than 100 countries with one common mission: to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children around the world. For more information, visit www.ecpatusa.org.
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