Seeing the signs: How to know if loved one might be involved in trafficking

Expensive gifts and changes in behaviour can be indicators that your loved one is caught up or being groomed for human trafficking, one local program co-ordinator says. Anyone can be caught up in these situations.

There are lots of ways to tell if your loved one may be going down a path that leads to being trafficked, says Jessica Wilson, a program co-ordinator at Benisiwag Centre for Wellness. Part of Wilson’s job is helping people who have been caught up in trafficking.

Some of the indicators that a child might be getting groomed for trafficking could include changes in style or friends, Wilson says.

“When I talk to parents and teachers I always talk about different crowds,” Wilson said. “Different people all of a sudden coming into their crowd of friends or older people [joining friend groups]. Change of clothing is really a huge indicator. Two cell phones is kind of a red flag.”

Often a child can be given a second cell phone to contact a person who might be grooming them. This is why Wilson recommends parents look at their children’s phones on a regular basis to ensure their kids are not hiding anything from them.

Expensive gifts are another red flag parents or family should watch out for. When people are being groomed, traffickers can often try to win affection with gifts.

“A lot of times recently I’ve seen a lot of younger girls have really, really expensive purses,” Wilson said. “That had kind of fallen off for a while but right now I see it happening again. Like grade nine students having really expensive purses, so different expensive gifts is a red flag for sure.”

Another thing that may happen if someone is caught up in trafficking is waning interest in their normal hobbies or activities and not staying in sports like they might have otherwise.

“I always tell parents to monitor social media platforms,” Wilson said. “Phones always being erased and no content on their phone is a huge red flag, private accounts are a red flag, or more than one account.”

Wilson adds it’s important for parents to keep tabs on their children’s whereabouts as well.

“I always tell parents to know the location of their children,” Wilson said. “A lot of times kids have that location feature on their cell phone, I always tell parents to have that on.”

There are a variety of apps that can be downloaded for iOS or Android that enable parents to track the whereabouts of their child’s phone and their child assuming the child has the phone with them.

Wilson adds when people are being groomed there can often be a person who comes into their life and gets them caught up romantically.

“I find a lot of times gang members are coming into the community like being the ‘boyfriend,’” Wilson said. “We call those ‘Romeo pimps.’ They start to become the partner of individuals and then a lot of times they end up getting them pregnant in order to continue to control them. That’s what I see very often in our area.”

Wilson says it’s important to remember that anyone can be affected by this sort of abuse.

“Trafficking doesn’t discriminate, this can happen to absolutely anybody,” she said.

Next week we’ll look at services available to victims of human trafficking and some of the ways to help them.