How to talk about sex trafficking with your child: A conversation with Brenna, our anti-trafficking team’s family social worker

The Let’s Talk About Sex Trafficking campaign aims to empower and equip parents and caregivers with tools to talk with their children about what sex trafficking looks like and how it can happen, to help prevent it. How can parents approach such a heavy conversation? And what do you do if you suspect your child is being trafficked? We talked with Brenna, who works with youth and their families on the anti-human trafficking team at Covenant House about how she helps.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your role?

A: Basically, my goal is to make sure every young person I work with has a safe, supportive, trusting adult they can call at 2 a.m. when something goes wrong. I meet young people and families at various stages – some of the young people I work with are entrenched in trafficking, some have exited. A lot of the youth I work with, their parents have spotted a lot of red flags, have sensed that something’s not right and have given me a call.

Q: What’s that call like?

A: That call is really difficult for parents to make. There’s a lot of shame in it because parents are so worried they’ve let their kid down, that they’ve done something wrong. But I want to make clear, it is not an issue of bad parenting, this is not parents’ fault. But prevention of sex trafficking and exiting and healing from it is something parents can be really involved in.

Q: What do you help parents with?

A: I help parents a lot with trying to navigate “What are some of these red flags, what should they be looking out for?” It’s never just one thing, but a collection of them. If your kid is skipping school frequently, leaving home without permission, no longer showing interest in the things they cared about before, those can be signs. Maybe they have a bunch of new friends they’re really secretive about and you’re not sure where they came from, or you suspect they’re experimenting with drugs beyond recreational use. All of those things are things you can look out for, especially if you’re noticing more than one happening together.

Q: What’s the most impactful thing parents can do to prevent sex trafficking?

A: The biggest thing is having a strong connection with your child. You might not care about the YouTuber your kid really loves or the videogame they’re really interested in. But you need to try. Watch those TikTok videos with them, follow the accounts they follow, follow their social media account, be involved in their lives. Know about their friends, know about what’s happening. Because if they feel that you care, they’re going to feel connected and they’re going to feel they can trust you with the bigger things.

Q: What about if you suspect your child is being trafficked?

A: If you suspect your child is being trafficked, it’s so important that they know your house is always a judgment free space and that they’re always welcome home. You may want to lock them in their room, take away their phone or ask a million questions: try and slow that process down. The most important thing is that they’re safe with you. Traffickers are exquisitely trained at exploiting your child’s unmet needs, so if you are meeting their needs, it can take some of that power and pull away from the trafficker.

Q: How can parents use the tools that are part of this campaign to help feel more empowered to broach the subject of sex trafficking with their kids?

A: Watch the videos we’ve created so that you can have conversations with your kids about sex trafficking. Ask them ‘Is this something you’ve heard about before?’ ‘Is this something you think could happen?’ ‘Is this something you’ve seen with your friends?’ ‘Are you worried about this?’ Now you’re giving your kids the tools so they can pay attention and be aware of this out in the real world. That genuine curiosity and openness and asking them for their expertise can really help with those conversations.