Sex trafficking survivor turned advocate Eliza Bleu says the coronavirus shutdown has created the “perfect storm” for rife sex trafficking.
With a stunning 10 million Americans losing their jobs in the past two weeks and young teens stuck at home, desperation and ample time for online grooming will certainly cause a spike in victimization.
And according to Bleu, it already has.
“Pre teens and teens at home alone with their parents for days on end due to school closures will be groomed by predators online,” the advocate told The Daily Wire. “They will be promised a ‘better life’ if they run away. The national average runaway is trafficked within 48 hours of leaving home.”
Bleu said parents and guardians need to be “extra vigilant” when monitoring their child’s online activity during the quarantine.
Social media apps like TikTok and Instagram, or even gaming platforms, could allow predators the space to groom youths. Bleu suggests that parents create fake accounts in such spaces to keep an eye one their children. Predators can move from one teen to the next through something as seemingly harmless as a tagged photo, she explained.
Outlined below are some of the site’s social media safety tips that should be communicated to minors:
- Never share pictures of yourself online that you wouldn’t want to be seen by your family, teachers, or a total stranger.
- Set user profile to private so only real friends can get access. Know who you’re chatting with – a “friend” is not always a friend. […]
- Don’t share personal information online such as your full name, school, address or phone number, or user passwords.
- Don’t meet up in person with anyone you met online.
- Report suspected abuse to law enforcement or a trusted adult.
As we’ve seen in nations across the globe, as shutdown measures attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19 continue, problems for the already vulnerable will only get worse. In France, for example, domestic violence victims have resorted to using “code words” at pharmacies to seek rescue from abuse.
Right now, Bleu told The Daily Wire, the “new addition” to the at-risk sex trafficking population is “everyone.”
Generally, the most at-risk populations include “those experiencing homelessness, addiction, poverty both rural and urban, immigrants, LGBTQ, indigenous populations, people of color,” the advocate said, “and the new addition… everyone. Any parent that will do whatever it takes to feed their child in a moment of desperation is at risk. Anyone living paycheck to paycheck, with no paycheck, is at risk.”
Bleu noted that faith-based organizations have routinely “stepped up” to help the vulnerable, and asked that they continue to do so, especially in such a desperate time.
“Nationally, we are not equipped to deal with the influx of human trafficking survivors,” the survivor explained. “The government has relied on faith-based organizations to take care of most of our survivors of human trafficking. In my opinion, the faith-based organizations were the ones that stepped up when no one else would at first. The safe houses that are not faith-based organizations are full. The faith-based houses are full. The domestic violence shelters are full. The homeless shelters are full. We were all full before Corona.”
“As the churches run out of money due to the virus, the survivor movement will run out of our safety net,” continued Bleu. “I am begging all faith based organizations and churches to please prepare to accept those experiencing homelessness as a result of the virus. Get ready to take folks into your homes. If you have the ability to drive a survivor of trafficking or domestic violence out of state to a church or organization with more space and less virus, please step up and do so.”
For ways to connect with organizations fighting human trafficking, check out the extended resources page at HumanTraffickingHotline.org.
For anyone who is “right on the edge,” as Bleu put it, “please pause before considering sex work.”
The advocate asked the vulnerable to call 1-888-373-7888, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is always available, “completely confidential and non judgmental.” Or folks can text HELP to 233733, visit HumanTraffickingHotline.org, or reach out to Bleu via Twitter.
“We are here to help,” Bleu emphasized. “I am saying this as a survivor of human trafficking, and as an advocate for those effected by trafficking. I know what it’s like to have too much pride to ask for help. If I hadn’t asked for help when I did, I would be dead. You are not alone in this.”