By Mary David
12:14 PM EDT, September 9, 2013
The suicide of former school bus driver and Ohio kidnapper Ariel Castro comes with mixed sentiments, but it serves as a reminder that many other predators like him still live and work among us.
People across America can no longer claim, "It doesn't happen here." The Cleveland kidnappings are a horrific but timely reminder that sexual slavery exists in our neighborhoods and in every state across America. We just aren't looking. And we aren't speaking out.
Our young adults are the ones paying the price.
Police reports have indicated that Castro approached his victims in seemingly harmless environments. What teenager would know to be wary of accepting a ride from her friend's father? What young adult leaving work would instinctively refuse to get into a car with a co-worker's dad?
Not many. Driven in part by youthful innocence, feelings of invincibility and comfort in familiar surroundings, youth can easily be manipulated into dangerous situations. Complicating matters further is social media. Twitter, Facebook, dating websites and social apps make it easier than ever to connect with absolute strangers and develop a personal relationship — even before meeting face to face.
With this growing access to strangers and lack of emotional maturity or perspective to gauge the safety and authenticity of their encounters, young people today are letting down their guard more than ever.
This mix of circumstances cries out for something that is missing in society today: reminders of warning signs.
Although parents often tell their children not to talk to strangers or ride in cars with them, that message is not sufficiently reinforced, particularly for adolescents and young adults. We don't often see public service announcements targeted to older children, safety initiatives in high school and college or celebrities speaking out on the risks of interacting with strangers.
Where are the campaigns urging youth not to walk home alone, not to get in a car with someone the first night you meet him or her, or resources for parents on how to best protect their children?
Where are the wide-scale media announcements and outreach efforts to educate people about the National Human Trafficking Hotline? Where are initiatives targeted to adults to remind them that they too must be cautious?
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline is staffed by people who are trained to handle suspected cases of slavery. Did the neighbors who saw the Ohio victims in chains know about the hotline? Did they know there was an organization called the Polaris Project that connects law enforcement trained in dealing with human trafficking to potential victims?
Just last year, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported human trafficking cases in all 50 states.
The problem is bigger than we think. It is bigger than we can handle without investing more resources into awareness and prevention. People need to know the high risk for abduction and enslavement. They also need to know there is a number to call for help.
Until they do, countless victims will remain in captivity.
An attorney and advocate for victims of trauma, Mary David is an internationally recognized human trafficking expert. She helped draft some of the first laws against human trafficking in Maryland and formerly served as the United Nations adviser on women and children for the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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