Too often, our daughters are put into a position where they're forced to go with the flow or take a stand. In the past years of providing education and advocacy to youth from five years old up to high school and college students, I've heard from girls, "I was quiet because I did not know what to do. I did not want to make a scene. I did not want to stand out. I did not want to be that one girl who was uncool."
Unfortunately, these statements mimicked the statements from many victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation we have encountered. Something deep in their gut told them to run. But instead of running, they flipped their hair and smiled...and inwardly gulped in fear and confusion.
At GO:61, one of the things we have noticed in regards to youth prevention is a lack of parents teaching their daughters to say "no." There's no need to point blame; many parents and youth leaders simply don't think this is an issue because we all tend to believe our kids are relatively safe and will make wise choices. I think the word we need to fit into that sentence is our kids WANT to make wise choices, but when they are put on the spot, their insides tremble, they feel caught off-guard, they don't want to be the one person who takes a stand, and they panic. Without proper preparation, empowerment, and support, our daughters will often say "yes" or remain silent when they want to say "no" and leave an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation.
A quiet person makes a soft target. A soft target is a highly-desired target. The girl who goes along with whatever comes her way, even though her insides are trembling and she is a ball of nerves and desperately wants to go home...but she desperately wants to be liked. That girl is a soft target, an easy target. I know this is an uncomfortable conversation to have, but our experiences have led us to believe it is one of the most important topics of discourse in fostering safety and protection for our kids. The kids at risk for human trafficking and sexual exploitation are not always the kids in lower economic settings and from settings traditionally deemed high-risk. Among the youth most at risk of becoming human trafficking victims are girls with previous trauma. Date rape, being filmed doing something explicit and having that used against them, agreeing to send an explicit photo (sextortion) to someone and having that used against them, letting a boy or an adult go too far with them in an intimate manner, and so on. Each of these actions, when compromising a girl's personal desires and convictions, increase her risk of being coerced, threatened, intimidated, and they also increase her risk of developing emotional, spiritual, physical, and psychological trauma.
How do we protect and empower our daughters in a society where it's becoming increasingly expectant of them to be willing to do whatever is proposed? We practice allowing them to say "no." Not only do we practice, but we also have many small conversations with them about options people in their lives may propose, and we go over with them how they might respond to different situations. We tell them where they can seek help, how to respond, and we give them fully authority to hit someone in the nose (when appropriate), yell "no," and run the other way. Take the previous sentence with a grain of salt, and please take it in context. The overall message here is this: You won't be there when your daughter has a guy put his hand on her butt, or when someone texts her and asks her to send a photo of herself without her top on, or when she's passed a drink at a party by a guy she does not know. You won't be there when the boy at school thrusts himself up against her. But, even though you won't be there, you can prepare her to know how to respond to these situations.
A few years ago, I sat down with my two early teen daughters, and we had a role playing session right in our kitchen. I played the perpetrator and suggested inappropriate things to my daughters. They giggled (because it was me playing the part) and I insisted, "Treat this like it is a real situation." They both meekly said, "Hey, get away from me." We continued with the role play, and within thirty minutes, both girls were slamming their hands forcefully down on the kitchen table and yelling at me, "Go away!! I said No, and that is it!!" Their voices were loud and authoritative. They were in control. But they had to practice because it is not natural for many girls to confidently face these kinds of situations. Some girls handle confrontation well, and others don't. But, unfortunately, victimization often occurs through seductive, alluring, and teasing measures, as opposed to confrontation. When a guy chides a girl for being a prude and for being so stuck up and shy, when all the other girls (he tells her) are cool and sophisticated and mature, this leaves our daughters suddenly feeling less than and lacking. And, this leads to them wanting to make up for it. They don't want to make anyone angry, and they don't want to cause a scene. This makes them soft targets. As parents, teachers, youth leaders, and those in charge of protection and development of children and teens, it's time we face these difficult issues and begin addressing them, empowering our girls, and providing options and tools for them to stay safe.
Author: Casey Alvarez
Casey is the Founder and Executive Director of GO:61. She enjoys leading community citizens and professionals to find their footing in leveraging their talents and knowledge to combat trafficking. Casey coordinates the GO;61 teams, provides human trafficking training, creates anti-trafficking curriculum, and serves as a victim case manager. Apart from abolitionism, she loves being a wife and mother and enjoys getting away to remote places with her family.