The Horrifying Ways Sex Traffickers Lure Young Latinas

The Horrifying Ways Sex Traffickers Lure Young Latinas
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This article originally appeared in Latina magazine's February 2016 issue.

Around the globe, sex traffickers lure a young woman or girl into prostitution every 30 seconds, and in the United States, the victims are disproportionately Latina. Here’s some expert advice on keeping our daughters safe.

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More than 100,000 children in the United States, typically between the ages of 12 and 14, are lured into prostitution and pornography each year, contributing at once to a human-rights crisis and a $32 billion underground industry. Low-income young women of color—including Latinas—are the most vulnerable to this commercial sexual exploitation. Xuchitl Coso, the cubana executive director at PACE Center for Girls, a Florida-based organization working with at-risk youth, believes there are several factors that make our girls more susceptible, among them poverty, language barriers, and most important, citizenship status. “If the girls are immigrants,” Coso says, “then they also fear being deported, and this is what the traffickers hang over their head.”

In addition, she points out that those forced into sexual slavery, like rape survivors, are often subject to victim shaming, as if they, not those who brutalized them, should be held responsible for what happened. While the onus should not fall on girls or their families to prevent trafficking, Coso says there are actions parents can take to keep their hijas safer. Here is some of her guidance.

1. CREATE CONFIDENCE: Traffickers prey on girls with low self-esteem, knowing they can easily charm them with words that make them feel special or beautiful. Building self-respect and positive body image in girls as early as possible can make them less vulnerable to predators’ deceptive compliments.

2. FOCUS ON SCHOOL: Optimism about the future makes a girl less inclined to fall for a trafficker’s empty promises. “School failure and dropout are risk factors,” Coso says, “[while] attachment to school and teachers and expecting to complete high school or attain a GED are noted protective factors.”

3. KEEP HER BUSY: Predators cruise traditional hangout spots—malls, theaters, fast-food joints, gas stations—searching for victims. Keeping your kid busy with such extracurricular activities as sports or choir can reduce her chances of catching 
a pimp’s eye.

4. BE PRESENT: A lack of consistent parental supervision can make children feel they’re not loved or understood and may leave them searching for attention and affection wherever they can find it. At the very least, make it clear that you need to know where your daughter is at all times.

PLUS: Michelle Rodriguez on Why She's a Part of the Fight Against Sex Trafficking

5. GET HELP: Youth with a history of trauma, from sexual assault and physical abuse to drug addiction and time in foster care, are the most vulnerable to sex traffickers. Getting survivors the counseling help they need can make them less susceptible to predators. “We need to allow them to share their fears and traumas,” Coso says.