This blog is the third in a series about a tough week I had as a helper for two consecutive Born 2 Fly day camps teaching teen and elementary girls human trafficking prevention strategies. From my perspective, the weeks did not go well and I am writing to try to figure out why in my mind.
The second day after we dismissed the teens, one of the girls’ aunts picked her up to take her home instead of her mother. I said to the director that this was something I hadn’t thought of. Perhaps we need a password so people cannot have the child unless they know the password. At the very least we should have a permission slip with a list of the people the primary guardian says her child can go home with. The director said she felt this was not needed and dismissed the idea even though I had brought a copy of such a permission from another agency for ease of use in our program.
This was one example of the many administrative oversights I witnessed during the preparation phase and subsequent pilot of the program. The director came 3 days out of the 5 each session. She had to be away 2 days every week to work, and when she was at the Born 2 Fly sessions, she was always on her cell phone. “I’m multi-tasking,” she’d say. The teen helper had her cell phone, too. Many times during the course of an activity she’d be in the corner of the room texting her boyfriend instead of helping the children. Because the director and the lead teacher used their phones all the time, they did not see why it was a problem allowing the teen helpers to use theirs.
A fellow adult activities helper noticed the disruption of the cell phones, as well. She told me that when she would do a corporate meeting, she would have a basket at the entrance to the meeting and tell everyone to put the phone in the basket until after the meeting. If they did not feel comfortable doing that, they could keep them with them, but if anyone answered their phones during the meeting, they had to give her $20.00, which, she told them, she’d send to their favorite charity. Wise woman!
One thing I have learned about traffickers: they focus – intently. They do not pick children at random. They scout out for an “easy” child. They will sit in one location and learn the patterns of that location. They will watch for children alone, for those who exhibit behaviors of low self-esteem and for those who can be easily manipulated. They will select a child and watch them over weeks, months until they know each and every nuance of the child. They will know that child’s triggers and vulnerabilities, and then, they make their move to befriend that child. This “phase” of the grooming may take another long period of time, but that is of no consequence to the trafficker. He is shoring up his cash cow.
Contrast this with an anti-trafficking educator who cannot “be with” her class of children for a full week, and, when present, keeps disrupting her conversations/activities with them to answer her phone. We helpers made many significant connections with the children during activities and conversations we had throughout the days, but they could not be built upon because the leaders missed them. Tomorrow I will share the most significant miss. It will break your heart.