Just a week ago, ECPAT-USA released its new Public Service Announcement, Any Kid Any School, which highlights the importance of teaching children to be savvy and vigilant in the face of the pervasive reality of child trafficking. Within days, an incident occurred just a short distance away from ECPAT’s headquarters, drawing media attention to this issue.
This past Wednesday, the New York Daily News reported on an attempted abduction of a teenage girl in Park Slope, a quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn. According to the girl’s mother, speaking to ABC News the following day, her daughter was walking alone when a couple pulled up beside her in a Jeep. The woman called out to her, saying, “Hi, I really love your dress. Where did you get it? I would like to get one myself.” When the girl stopped to answer politely, the man in the Jeep jumped out and grabbed her, trying to drag her into the car. Fortunately, the girl was able to break free and run away.
As a parent in the area, I can attest to how shaken the community is by this event. Within hours of the incident, my child’s school sent out safety warnings, encouraging parents to speak with their kids about what to do if approached by a stranger and presenting guidelines on how to help them cope with the anxiety of knowing this happened in their neighborhood.
However, it is vital to remember that for all the media attention this incident has received, the vast majority of child trafficking doesn’t take the form of forced abduction. Far more commonly, traffickers target vulnerable children and employ insidious methods of psychological and emotional manipulation. Those methods may involve flattery and sweet-talk—which was indeed a factor in this recent incident—as well as promises of love or money, threats, and isolation from their communities. Because most incidents don’t involve public displays of violence, and because they often target underserved populations, they don’t typically receive media attention. For example, in 2016, several local media outlets reported on girls who had gone missing from lower-income neighborhoods in the Bronx. However, it wasn’t until twelve young girls had gone missing over the course of two years that the media began to report on the issue.