By Emily Mills, Founder + Chief Ideation Officer of Jesus Said Love
Confident kids are a nightmare to traffickers. And while we can’t prevent every incident of trafficking, we do know that traffickers prey on vulnerabilities. Many of you are parents who have become invested in the fight against this heinous reality, the stories on the news and social media churn your stomach. I want to take the chance as a mom of 3 kiddos (1 now in college, 1 wrapping up high school and 1 in middle school) to think about preventing human trafficking right under your own roof. Your role as parent or caregiver is invaluable to your child’s self worth and confidence and you are not powerless against trafficking!
After nearly 18 years of parenting and working directly with survivors of sex exploitation, trafficking and sex offenders, Brett (my husband) and I are sure of two things: 1) Connection with our kids is paramount and 2) You cannot prevent every evil assault against your child.
Healthy families are safe havens, reducing vulnerabilities to harms such as trafficking. Brett and I have been working with women and men impacted by commercial sex exploitation and trafficking for 18 years now and the number one question we still get asked is, “How do you talk to your kids about this?” I began strip club outreaches when my first daughter was just 1 year old. My family and our organization have grown up together. The kids are now 19, 17, and 12. People wonder if Brett and I kept our work a secret from them or if we used language like “sex,” “stripper,” “rape,” and “sexual assault” in front of our children. Somewhere along the way I learned the phrase “guided exposure” and it’s been a tether for us when talking to our kids about EVERYTHING imaginable including trauma, addiction, sex trafficking, and exploitation.
In learning about human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, we had to accept this parenting challenge as part of our work and our world, but also trust that we COULD do something about it. Our work at Jesus Said Love and Lovely Enterprises gave us opportunities to learn from survivors, hold their stories as sacred wisdom, and create safe spaces for women to heal. Many of the survivors were moms with kids the same age as mine. We learned that poverty created vulnerabilities and disparities, that childhood sexual abuse grooms kids to be trafficked and that traffickers preyed on the vulnerabilities of women and children. We began to implement language and have open conversations from an early age with our kids about complicated issues. We took conversational cues from our kids, and when they asked, we put our fear aside and chose to honor their curiosity and be authentic when we didn’t know the answers.
I have put together some simple guidelines that might be helpful in talking to your kids in a way that builds connection, fosters communication and models compassion. This guide has been reviewed by survivors, nationally and internationally known leaders, trafficking survivors and a pediatric expert. All of our kids are on the front lines of this issue and it’s important they develop self-confidence (a real threat to traffickers), that they learn healthy boundaries in relationships (traffickers use many tactics to try and blur these boundaries), and that they know how to report suspected trafficking (recruitment happens in schools across America). Of course, there are many families who do their best and traffickers still find them, especially in our digital age. This is not about perfect parenting, nor am I promoting a foolproof guarantee of preventing a trafficker from targeting your child. These are simply tools we have used through the years as we’ve raised our children in close proximity with women who have been trafficked and exploited and in a world where predators exist. Perhaps proximity, more than anything, has given our kids a view on the world much different than many and hopefully one that will bend their hearts toward justice reform, better prevention in schools, and overall compassion for survivors.
One final thing, I cannot express how much YOUR health as a parent matters. Creating healthy attachment is foundational for a child’s brain, body, and relationship to others, and healthy attachment can be hard for parents who have survived trauma. Also, if you are a person of faith, attachment to a caregiver becomes foundational to their relationship with God. Remember, no matter where you’re at in your journey as a family, you can “begin again” at any time. There is not one way to parent and none of us are perfect; we walk this road humbly.
For an age appropriate guide to Confident Kids ages 2-18, click here for the free download.
Emily Mills is the Founder and Chief Ideation Officer of Jesus Said Love which comprises outreach, education, ACCESS, Lovely Enterprises, Stop Demand School, and Lovely Village (housing for survivors). Lovely Enterprises, a justice enterprise of JSL, is aimed at reducing recidivism into the sex trade through empowerment programs, providing living wage jobs to survivors and launching micro businesses for those impacted by the sex industry. Lovely Enterprises studio storefront is housed within JSL HQ at 1500 Columbus Ave in Waco, Texas.
Emily is a licensed Baptist minister who still participates in hospital chaplaincy visits and survivor aftercare. She has served on the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition and also serves through leading worship for Church Under the Bridge in Waco. Emily is an innovative builder and loves to create space for others to experience connection. She enjoys writing words and music, is drawn to almost any body of water and adores learning new things. Emily and her husband Brett live in Waco, TX and have three incredibly gracious children: Hattie, Lucy and Gus.