55 % of sex-trafficked youth entering “the life” in 2015 met their trafficker(s) through text, website or an app.
–“Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking” Thorn

The brief documentary film by Bark, a content monitoring app, starkly highlights the dangers of online predators. Pedophiles on social media sites such as Instagram and Snapchat are actively trying to obtain explicit images of children and teens, using manipulative tactics like sextortion to keep children and youth silenced, and meanwhile, they are hoping that parents or guardians are not paying attention. Today’s parents cannot afford to remain ignorant about online sexual and psychological abuse but instead must honestly face the fact that it’s not a matter of if your child or teen will be solicited online, but when.

When Bark went live with the 15-year-old persona “Libby,” 7 adult men attempted to contact her within the first hour. Many requests to meet in person followed those messages. Perhaps even more disturbing, when Bark created an even younger persona, “Bailey,” an 11-year-old pre-pubescent girl, she received an instant barrage of sexual messages, requests for explicit images, and incoming video calls from child predators in less than 5 minutes of going live with her accounts. Many of these incoming messages for both fictional personas were characterized by manipulations and threats. This means that more than ever, parents and guardians must have those honest conversations regarding online predation early and often with their children and teens. Parents must be a safe place for kids to come to and discuss these things.

Included in that discussion should be a growing awareness of online solicitation and grooming of minors and youth for sex trafficking. Grooming youth for sex trafficking is now occurring online more often than in person. According to a published study in 2018 by Thorn, 55 % of surveyed domestic sex trafficked youth entering the life in 2015 met their trafficker(s) through text, website or an app, while only 45% of those domestic sex trafficked youth entering the life in 2015 met their trafficker(s) face to face. Traffickers are recruiting online now more than ever where they build their relationships online through both chat and phone calls. According to Thorn’s research, “the findings do show that while meeting in person was the singular dominant method of developing a close relationship in the past, it is now a dominant method while technology-based modes of communicating are increasing in usage.” Additionally, buyers don’t need to go through sex industry websites such as sugar daddy or escort agency sites, they can contact their targets directly online through social media sites.

In light of these changes in traffickers’ grooming practices and with easy access for buyers through social media sites, Ending the Game — a psychological resiliency intervention curriculum for sex trafficked and sexually exploited persons — made some recent changes. Because buyers, traffickers and the sex industry are leaning more heavily towards the use of technology in their coercive and manipulative strategies, we are including a new STREAM of Influence (Survival, Trafficker, Recruiter, Environment, Abuse, Media). In the STREAMS of Influence list from Lesson 1, you will now see an “s” which stands for solicitation. Solicitation can come in many forms online, but primarily we are seeing it in the form of online offers from buyers, sex industry website ads, and offers from sugar daddies/mamas. Ending the Game is committed to staying current with the changing technological trends in solicitation practices by traffickers, buyers and the sex industry at large and to stay relevant to the clients you serve. We hope you will incorporate more discussions around these topics in your classes.