I-TEAM INVESTIGATES: Traffickers using social media to recruit children

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Monday, February 4, 2019

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Can you believe Facebook was born 15-years ago? We may remember the world before social media but our kids do not. They're the first generation to grow up with social media and smartphones. They're also the first to be targeted, recruited, and exploited through it.

"We as mother's would take them to play and we would go to the park and we would be concerned about protection them at the park from potential predators. We now need to be more concerned about the predator actually being in our living room, being in our child's bedroom, or with them as they as they go to school," said Ginger Amberson.

"These are local girls? Here in Augusta," Liz Owens asked. "Yes," she answered. Amberson runs the non-profit, I-Care.

She helps girls rescued from sex trafficking . She is currently caring for more than thirty girls. All are from Augusta. All had social media. All were sold for sex.

"I don't think its recognized because we are looking for the gagged and yanked off the street in a moments notice when actually a lot of these girls are being approached online and a relationship begins on line before they're ever trafficked."

The National Human Trafficking hotline recorded recruitment on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, KIK, Meetme.com, Whatsapp, and dating sites/apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Plenty of Fish.

Sex traffickers look for posts from children and teens like:

"Nobody gets me."
"I am so ugly."
"I'm being treated like a kid."

The traffickers pretend to be interested and send strategic messages like:

"I understand you."
"I'll make your life better."
"I'll encourage you to take risks. you're an adult."

Traffickers will ask for risky pictures and then use it to extort their victim. "Do what I say or else!" Some use violence.

"It turned from online relationship and boyfriend to very violent and from there used coercion and threats to keep her online to keep in her line. She had been trafficked with for months before she was referred to us," Amberson said.

The girl was only 14-years old. She was trafficked from her house while her parents were at work.

"They were horrified they were horrified they couldn't understand how something like that could happen."

Warning signs that your child may be a victim or is being targeted can include using the phone a lot, having multiple phones, always tired, and distant.