Talking with your child about sex trafficking

Sex trafficking can happen at any age. Our study with teen girls revealed there is a critical window of time to talk with your child about sex trafficking before their risk factors increase.1

We also learned that talking to children about sex trafficking can have a big impact on the decisions they make.2  The more they know about it, the more they can protect themselves and their friends who may be vulnerable.

Instead of waiting for a problem to present itself, we've outlined some ways you can be proactive.

Step by step

1. It may be helpful to first gain an understanding of the basics of sex trafficking with our Sex trafficking 101 section.

2. You can use this downloadable postcard (PDF) to start the conversation with your child. You don’t need to cover this all at once. It’s an ongoing conversation.

3. Finally, below are some tips on how to start talking about sex trafficking with your child.

Define and explain trafficking

Our research with teen girls shows they protect themselves more when they are familiar with what sex trafficking is.3  

It's important to help your child understand what it means and be able to describe it. This is a definition students have found easy to grasp during Covenant House school presentations:

Sex trafficking is when a person is lured, tricked or manipulated to sell their body for sex to make money for someone else.

Describe the warning signs

Many survivors told us they did not understand what was happening to them. Talk to your children about how and where trafficking happens and how to recognize the warning signs. It's about making them aware, not afraid.

Teach them to trust their gut

It’s easy to ignore the signs, so it’s important to teach your children to trust their instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Help them watch out for their friends too. It’s often much easier to spot the signs of sex trafficking with a friend.

Explain healthy relationships

Survivors told us that not knowing the characteristics of a healthy relationship made them vulnerable to being lured into trafficking. We also know that victims often get recruited by someone they know, either a boyfriend, friend or acquaintance.4

Talk with your children about consent, safety, setting boundaries and the signs of a healthy relationship such as:

  • Respect
  • Honesty
  • Trust
  • Equality
  • Open communication

Create a safety plan

A safety plan helps empower young people with tools they can use to protect themselves. This may include identifying trusted adults, using a code word and practising online safety. Learn more about creating a safety plan and online safety with your child.

 

Encourage them to reach out for help

I guess I was embarrassed and I was very stubborn so I don’t know if I would have reached out for help.5

Survivors told us they did not know where to get help or were too afraid to ask. Let your child know:

  • Sex trafficking is never their fault.
  • It’s okay to ask for help.
  • They can come to you any time, even if they have "broken a rule."
  • There are other trusted adults or community supports that can help too.

For more information on where to get help, click here.

Equip them with language they can use when seeking help

Survivors told us they didn’t know how to describe what was happening to them. Here are some examples of ways to express what's going on:

  • “I'm being made to do things I'm not comfortable with and that I don’t consent to.”
  • “I feel like I don’t have any control.”
  • “I feel like I don’t have a choice.”
  • “My gut doesn’t feel right.”
  • “I feel disrespected.”
  • “I feel powerless.”
  1. Covenant House Toronto, & Ipsos Public Affairs. (2018). A National Sex Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Study
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Canadian Women’s Foundation. (2014). “No More”: Ending Sex Trafficking in Canada, Report of the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.canadianwomen.org/our-work/sector-resources/
  5. Covenant House Toronto, & Ipsos Public Affairs. (2018). A National Sex Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Study