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As parents, we teach our kids through their lives how to be safe. We teach them things like, not to put their finger in an electrical socket or play with matches, always wear a seat-belt and wear a helmet when riding a bike, and so on.

But, when it comes to the topic of human trafficking, it might not be a part of some parent's safety lessons. I am sure that some parents might think #NotmyKid?

Perhaps, it is because we feel that we have provided a stable home environment, or our child seems to excel in school and sports, has positive friendships and wouldn't ever be vulnerable to such a thing, or maybe it is that we believe that this issue really doesn't happen in our own backyard, or that it is too horrible to imagine that our child could ever be at risk.

However, the simple truth is that under certain circumstances, anyone, regardless of age, gender or socioeconomic background can become a victim.

Statistics show that almost three in ten victims are reported to be under the age of 18 with the average age of recruitment in Canada being between 12 and 14 years old. Unfortunately, the real numbers for actual victims of this crime is difficult to measure because it often goes unreported.

While this topic can make people feel uncomfortable, parents and caregivers need to have these difficult conversations, especially with the increased use of social media as a means to lure potential victims.

It has become more common for traffickers to exploit children in a digital world where information sharing has become the norm, especially with those who seek an emotional connection through their screens. Social networking sites make it very easy for a person to hide their real identity, and strike up what might appear to be a harmless conversation with a child online. It can be hard for youth to identify these "risky situations" when they might actually believe that they are talking to someone their own age, with the same interests, for example.

The reality is that electronic devices can provide, if allowed to a trafficker, 24-hour access to your child or teenager, in their home, school, job, or anywhere in the outside world.

We know that most teenagers these days have a cell phone, and typically tend to overshare personal information with their friends or followers on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. This can lead to a trafficker pinpointing your child's location, what they do on a regular basis, or discovering a vulnerability that they can exploit.

Most cases of human trafficking don't occur through a stranger abduction, like many movies portray. Statistics shows that 92 per cent of victims in Canada knew the person accused of trafficking them.

Potential victims can develop online relationships with a trafficker over time, where a trust factor is built and they might at some point become considered a "safe friend". It can be hard for youth to recognize risky situations, especially when interactions are happening online. This can lead to engaging in risky behaviour, such as agreeing to meet a person face-to-face or in some cases being manipulated into providing explicit content which then can be used as a control tactic by the abuser.

Parents and caregivers can help prevent these situations, by becoming educated themselves and passing this information on to the youth in their lives at an age-appropriate level. As well, providing an environment that is open where youth feel they can freely express themselves is beneficial. It can be difficult for kids to open up, especially if they are uncertain if they have engaged in risky behaviour, already.

There are many things that we can do to protect our children, such as being aware of where our kids are, know what they are doing online, and teaching them about internet safety, as well as making a safety plan together.

It is important that our kids begin to understand the reality of this issue, learn the signs of trafficking, how it can happen, how they can protect themselves, and what resources are available if they feel that they or someone they know is at possible risk or in danger.

Awareness and education is key to preventing this crime and equipping our youth with the necessary tools is essential.

If you suspect a young person is being trafficked, please call the confidential Human Trafficking Hotline @ 1-833-900-1010. If you want to report a potential victim or crime, call your local police or remain anonymous by calling Canadian Crime Stoppers Association @ 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or submitting a secure web tip at 🇨🇦

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