Grooming tactics work most successfully when the victim is between the ages of 11 and 16. Traffickers target victims who have some noticeable vulnerability. Social media and apps with private messaging features make it easier and faster for traffickers to identify their victims.
Parents should watch for the following signs that their child may be being groomed.
Money and Clothes - The grooming process often involves money, clothing or other expensive items like cell phones. These gifts will make the child feel special and could make them feel indebted. In time, they can create reliance as they become to rely on this person to meet their needs.
New Friends - Making new friends is a great idea, but if these friends are older or more independent—it may be a warning sign. Traffickers will often lie about their age or use teens as recruiters. If your teen starts spending time with a new boyfriend or a new group of friends, ask questions. Knowing who your child is with and what they are doing is important for their safety.
Unexpected Absences - If your teen was missing you would call police, but there are other instances that should get your attention. Skipping school, missing curfew or unexplainable absences should cause you to ask questions. While these signs are not proof your child is being sex trafficked, it could be a sign of other risky behaviors that are leading to being trafficked.
Change in Behavior - Teens that are being groomed by sex traffickers may also have a change in behavior. If you notice that your child has become withdrawn, angry, depressed, changes in sleeping/eating patterns or other big changes do not chalk it up to teenage hormones. Take the time to look further, especially when presented with the other signs mentioned above.