Eagle County Sheriff: Protecting our children from online predators and human trafficking (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Sheriff: Protecting our children from online predators and human trafficking (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices

James van Beek

As we continue our series on protecting children from online predators and dangerous activities, we must address the increasing danger of human trafficking.

We like to think that these things only happen elsewhere; they don't. Many young people make friends with online friends that they later discover to be sexual and violent predators who present themselves as peers but exploit the insecurities of children and create wedges between them and their families, setting themselves up as the only safe space for them to turn. That space often includes abduction with elements of rape and prostitution, slavery, forced marriage, torture and threats to family members.

Some frightening facts: According to the Department of Justice, "The average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the United States is 13 to 14 years old." A pimp can make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year, and the average pimp has four to six girls, the average victim may be forced to have sex 20 to 48 times per day.

Because of the overall safety of our community, people can become lax in security measures. Our doors are often left unlocked; we welcome strangers into our homes; we assume that our Facebook friends are who they present themselves to be; we venture into wilderness areas because they are our backyard; we may even give a hitchhiker a lift because we pick them up in our neighborhood. The list goes on and on because we live in Happy Valley.

That sense of security is certainly genuine because of the diligence of our law enforcement officials across the county, but there are limitations to our reach. Online danger can be life threatening, and the innocence of our children is subject to exploitation.

The danger can be so swift that disappearance can occur quietly, within minutes. In fact, the highly publicized disappearance of Natalee Holloway could have easily been the result of human trafficking, whisking her away from the beach, in the dark of night, by boat to parts unknown, leaving absolutely no clues. These abductors are specialists and highly paid for their expertise.

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The United Nations definition of trafficking is: "The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, or fraud or deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving or payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

"Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs," according to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking Persons. Our close-knit community is not exempt.

How do we protect our most vulnerable young people? Once again, it is in the monitoring and limitation of online social media use by minors. They assume their contacts are just like their friends at school and will reveal information through discussions, as they would at home. As adults, we know that all is not always as it appears. When someone online entices your child to go somewhere or do something out of character, we must assume that there may be unknown influences in force.

There is a reason why some Silicon Valley executives limit their children's online exposure. Social media sites are wonderful ways of communicating with actual friends and sharing information. Unfortunately, they are exploited by predators, well aware of the psychology of children and how to entice them.

Some will develop hundreds of online "relationships" over months or longer, to achieve their nefarious objectives. The length of time works in favor of the predator because children feel that their online friends accept them without criticism, encouraging them to open up with detailed information that places them at risk. Of course, this is by design, and they are too young to be fully aware.

In earlier columns in this series, I made some safety recommendations; please remain vigilant. Have a wonderful and safe summer.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.

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