For Parents: You Deserve Answers and Healing, Too.
As a parent or guardian you may be concerned about your child or family’s well being and safety. Perhaps you are worried your child might be at risk of, or is, being actively exploited. Or that your child has told you (or you otherwise know) they have been either commercially sexually exploited or trafficked. You may just be a parent who wants to know more about supporting your child’s safety .
We want to be here to support YOU. If you are here, reading this page, we know you care. We are here without judgement for you, your child, and your family. Everyone, including caregivers, deserves to be safe, heard, and healthy.
Here are some tips and resources that we have put together by speaking directly with parents who have experienced the pain of their child being missing or exploited.
If Your Child Is Missing or Has Left Home
Call 911. Report your child as missing as soon as possible. Try to provide law enforcement with your child’s name, date of birth, height, weight, and descriptions of any other unique identifiers like birthmarks, scars, braces, etc. Do you best to recall what they were wearing and who they might have last been with. IMPORTANT: Ask for your child’s report number. Feel empowered to follow up with them.
Ask law enforcement to report your child into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center Missing Person File. Then, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-The-Lost (1-800-843-5678).
If your child contacts you and wants to return home, a national resource to assist in free travel home can be found by calling 1-800-786-2929 and asking for the “travelers aid program.” They may also be able to assist your child in connecting to medical and social services to support them in their journey home.
Parent Peer Mentoring and Support
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Team Hope is comprised of over 150 parent volunteers who have felt the pain of having a missing child or a child who has experienced commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking. It helps to have someone to talk to who has been where you are at today. Call 866-305-HOPE (4673) to speak with a Team Hope member. You may also request a mentor who will provide a peer to support to you as you navigate this experience.
Finding Someone for Your Child
We have spent time with many youth who have experienced sex trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, or life in the underground street economy and have learned that having someone who has truly been there can make them feel more understood.
In the Bay Area, check out:
Huckleberry: https://www.huckleberryyouth.org (while their team is not explicitly made up of survivor mentors, they are a great resource to think through how to find the right person for your child)
If you need help connecting to a resource outside of the Bay Area, try calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline to identify an organization near you: (888) 373-7888.
Take Care of YOU
You may be struggling with what feels like the most basic things, like eating or sleeping. This is very normal. You can’t fight being sad, hurt, or angry. However, you can show yourself love by making sure you have healthy meals, drink water, talk to a friend or family member you trust, journal, listen to music, or find other ways to bring small moments of care into your life.
Siblings of child survivors of commercial sexual exploitation or trafficking may be struggling to understand why this happened to their brother or sister. They may feel feelings of helplessness, guilt, anger towards you or their siblings, resentment, fear, or even depression. They might be lashing out, regressing or hiding their feelings, acting out, or even being verbally or physically aggressive. It’s important to understand that they may not know how to feel or how to express their feelings.
You may want to talk to your school counselor, and you may want to offer to do research with them to better understand the issues of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.
There is a lot they can learn here at www.IAmJasmineStrong.com as well.
You may also consider professional counseling that specializes in the impact of commercial sexual exploitation or human trafficking in the lives of families of survivors.
Here are some ideas:
In the Bay Area:
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-The-Lost (1-800-843-5678)
The National Runaway Hotline: 1-800-786-2929
Finally, let your child know you are there for THEM. Offer to take to watch a movie, go out to eat, or find something they would like to do that is just for the two of you.
Know Your Rights
You have right to know how your child’s case is being handled. Remember, in the state of California, no child can be arrested for solicitation and prostitution, no matter what the circumstances. This is also true in many other U.S. states. If this has happened, contact an attorney or advocacy group.
If your child is dealing with court matters, we highly recommend that you speak with a legal resource that is specifically focused on the needs of youth who have experienced sexual exploitation or trafficking.
In the Bay Area, check out Bay Area Legal Aid: https://baylegal.org/get-help/ (1-800-551-5554).
Nationally, check out the National Runaway Safeline for connection to legal support.
Researching Shelters and Programs for Your Child
Your child may need time away from home to heal or an environment that is more therapeutic. While we wish there were more programs and services out there for youth surviving commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking, we realize resources are often hard to find.
You can find a list of programs and services in the the Bay Area on our resources page.
Nationally, please call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 to learn more about homes and programs for your child.
Here are some questions to ask when considering a residential program for your child:How long is your program?
Is your program religious-based?
Do you have clinically trained therapists on staff?
How do you define success for a child in your program?
What are their policies and philosophy around what happens when youth leave the residential program without permission for hours or days?
What are you safety protocols?
How will my child continue their education?
Do you offer family support?
How does a youth leave your program?
Do you have survivors on staff?
What are some of the activities do you offer?
Do you accept insurance? What forms of insurance? If not, what are other ways youth have been able to attend the program.
If you feel frustrated or like you are getting the runaround, seek support from a local agency that specializes in anti-trafficking work:
Therapy: A Resource for You, Your Family, and Your Child
You and your family deserve a space to heal. Although therapy may be intimidating or may not seem right for you, you can explore your options to find the right fit for you and your family. You may want to think about therapy just for you or therapy that is just for your child. Or, you may want to think about therapy for the entire family.
If you’re considering therapy, it’s important to find the right fit. Here are some questions you may want to ask potential therapists:
How long have you been a therapist and what brought you to this work?
What kinds of specializations do you have?
Are you considered a Trauma Therapist?
What are the trauma therapy methods you use, can you explain them?
Have you worked with victims/survivors of sex trafficking or their parents?
Have you worked with complex trauma and diagnoses associated with trauma?
Are you available outside of normally scheduled appointments?
How will we know when we are finished with your services?
Remember, when receiving therapy, you are the customer! Sometimes, therapists might say thing to push us while creating change. At others, the way they work with us might not feel like a good fit. That’s ok. You are entitled to find a relationship that feels right to you and your child.
Here are a few ideas:
In the Bay Area: WestCoast Children’s Clinic C-Change Program for youth
The Family Advocacy Outreach Network of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offer families in crisis a chance to connect to clinical and highly trained therapists who really get what is going on. Learn more here: http://www.missingkids.com/ourwork/faon
Things to Remember:
Your child may have chosen to leave home, get involved in drugs, or any number of other things. However, that does not make what happened to them their fault. Your child is a victim of a crime.
Your child may have complex feelings for their trafficker. Traffickers prey upon a child or young person’s dreams or desires for love or attention. Your child may not be ready to call their trafficker an abuser. Listening without judgement is hard. Your child needs you to be present and that often means meeting them where they are. You may be tempted to say “He sold you and raped you. How can you still say you love him?” That might push your child away. Another approach might be, “I love you. I am sorry you are hurting right now. I’m here for you and glad you are here.” (Take a look at some ideas for supporting your child through their journey here).
It is completely normal for you to grieve or feel that you have made mistakes during this time of healing. You can be an amazing example to your child and increase your ability to support them by doing your own work. If you feel you make mistakes on your healing journey, share this with your child and keep growing. Don't give up on yourself or your child. Give yourself the space and time to heal these deeps wounds.
Raising teens is already a hefty challenge on its own. When you combine this with complex trauma, we know it makes things even tougher. However, please know that you and your child have everything you need inside yourselves to heal and continue to grow into the best version of yourselves. You can do this.