Written by STOPP Website Staff (12/20/2018)

In the first two parts of this three-part story the threat of online gaming was introduced and those it has affected were covered. Now it is time to talk about warning signs and prevention of any online gamers becoming victims of human trafficking.

Children put themselves at great risk by communicating in online gaming forums with individuals they do not know in person. This is a place where individuals can interact with microphones or through messaging, and it is a place where traffickers can get in touch with potential victims through the process of grooming.

Internetsafety101.Org, a non-profit that informs others on how children can stay safe on the Internet, warns that online grooming is a process that can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception.

As the trafficker (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, they may initially lie about their age or may never reveal an actual age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate to the child. These tactics lead children to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

Lynne Barletta is founder of Catch the Wave of Hope, which is a nonprofit organization that has a mission to stop human trafficking. She warns that children can be trafficked from the comfort of their own home through these online gaming forums. She suggests some tips for monitoring and preventing your child from becoming a victim of traffickers:

  1. Help your kids by communicating
    • Be emotionally available — predators often target children who crave attention.
    • Set Internet and cell phone limits and rules — many victims are first approached on the Internet because the groomers can remain faceless.
    • Explain what sex trafficking is in frank terms.
  2. Observe
    • Look for new friends you’re not familiar with.
    • Look for changes in your child’s dress, attitude, behavior.
    • A sudden influx of money can mean they’re being groomed.

Now all of this is not designed to make all online gaming a villain. On the contrary, most online gaming interaction is friendly or mere competitive banter and teasing. In fact, some games are designed to help the public better understand the horrors of human trafficking like Missing: Game for a Cause. The game follows the story of Champa, a girl who wakes up disoriented in a locked room. She soon learns that she’s been sold to a brothel. She’s trapped, and it’s up to you to help her navigate her horrifying new situation. Leena Kejriwal, an Indian photographer and installation artist who grew up close to her city’s red light district, created the game. As a child Leena was warned of the horrors and told to avoid it, as an adult she went back and listened to the all too real stories of victims of human trafficking.

“I think what I always felt for them came alive when I went into the red light district, after so many years. So, slowly, what happened was, as an artist, the plight of those girls who had been exploited and trafficked into the red light became the forefront of all my work,” she said.

For more information on the work of Internet Safety 101 visit:https://internetsafety101.org/grooming#

For more info on Catch the Wave of New Hope check out the following: https://katu.com/news/local/expert-warns-of-summer-sex-trafficking-dangers


For the full story on Leena Kejriwal’s game see: https://venturebeat.com/2018/05/31/the-indiebeat-using-games-to-shine-a-light-on-sex-trafficking/