Written By Corine Gatti-Santillo

Sex trafficking via social media is growing across America and worldwide exponentially.

According to published reports, officials don’t know the precise data of how many children have fallen victim to sex traffickers on social media. They estimate it’s a 32 billion-a-year industry and roughly 300,000 American youths are lured into the sex trade. Equality Now published a Fact Pamphlet unveiling 20.9 million children and adults are purchased and marketed worldwide into sexual servitude. Females make up 96 percent of the victims. What experts can agree on is sex trafficking is escalating at a frightening velocity on social media.

Facebook is becoming a medium for pedophiles to entice girls into their network of destruction. Young girls are being kidnapped, sold and raped. All because these girls fell for a stranger’s sweet words on Facebook. Victims naively accept offers from the stranger to meet them at a hotel, restaurant or parking lot with the promise of love or to make money.

Outside of a kind message or deceptive invite, predators are actively seeking profiles of unguarded young girls. False Facebook profiles are instituted by the bad guys leading to outside links of websites where women, girls, men and boys are for sale. Child trafficking rings are recruiting girls through Facebook using data mining to obtain shared photographs of children. They befriend unsuspecting parents and friends who share pictures of their kids. Sharing pictures is an ideal gateway for criminals to investigate the worlds of prospective victims said Gregory Perry, CEO of GoVirtual Education in an interview with CBS.

We are dangerously ignorant about Facebook. Criminals are capitalizing on misguided parents and other family members. Parents need to exercise more discretion, or they could lose their child. Some parents already encountered the unthinkable, leading to lawsuits against Facebook.

A lawsuit against Facebook was filed in Houston, TX this year concerning a girl given the alias of Jane Doe. The lawsuit asserts Facebook never warned users that their platform was being used by sex traffickers. Jane Doe, 12, at the time was abducted after meeting a man on Facebook. He lured her into a Motel 6 and put her on Back page for sale. Back page was a classified advertising website that became the most comprehensive marketplace for purchasing and selling sex of minors before being seized by the Feds in 2018. It was the second-largest online classified site in the United States.

The victim’s attorney Annie McAdams is pleading with people that Facebook is not safe for kids.

“Just because you think you’re looking at who your kids are friends with on Facebook, they may not always be who they’re communicating with,” said according to published reports. “When you take your kid to summer camp, you expect the summer camp while your child is on that premise, to be kept safe from predators.”

A Tennessee mother is also suing the tech giant for enabling her daughter, 15, to be sexually exploited by traffickers who kidnapped her and locked in a hotel room for 10 days at a Rodeway Inn. She was sedated and raped for money.

Facebook has issued a section called the “Help Center” about online safety.

“If you encounter content or photos that indicate someone is in immediate physical danger related to human trafficking, contact 911 or local law enforcement immediately. Then, please report this content to us. Facebook is working with Polaris and the National Human Trafficking Hotline to provide resources and assist victims of human trafficking.”

Facebook isn’t the only vice used to draw girls into sex slavery. Criminals are looking at the social media app Snapchat to locate and kidnap girls. Devin L. Ashford of Lincoln, NE was charged with sex trafficking of a minor and possession of child pornography in 2018. He contacted the victim on Snapchat. She met him under false pretenses, was abducted and auctioned for money. Snapchat endangers children as young as 13 to graphic sexual content and “neglects to remove pornography producing SnapChat accounts, which are often used as advertisements for prostitution and sex trafficking,” The National Center on Sexual Exploitation reported.

Our kids are not safe. It’s up to us to stand in the gap and protect them from social media. Making our children more aware of potential crimes against them shouldn’t be overlooked in our sex-driven society. There are privacy settings a parent can use to help prevent sexual exploitation like disabling the location service of social apps. Facebook’s Messenger Kids app gives children a chat and video calling service with complete parental control.

More needs to be done.

It starts at home. Yes, Facebook should be accountable. Yet, we live in a culture where a kid can’t go biking riding, walk by themselves to school or be alone without the threat of assault. We need to be hyper-aware of where our kids are and what they are doing on social media. Social media can’t be exclusively to blame. Adults need to educate children from a young age about the perils involved.

Is this a battle cry?

Yes, and count me in.