You see it on the news and social media—girls as young as 12 years old disappearing. These girls aren’t running away because of a fight with parents or siblings. These girls are being tricked or taken and forced into a world of sex trafficking.

In some cases, girls are abducted off the street, but 71 percent of victims have previously met their abductor. Traffickers will recruit girls at school, malls and online. They look for easy targets: teens that feel isolated, appear vulnerable, or don’t have strong relationships with safe adults.

Traffickers will often manufacture a friendship or relationship to build trust. That relationship can soon become the most important thing in their lives and eclipse family relationships and other commitments. At other times, traffickers will promise a job making lots of money. How can parents combat the deception of sex traffickers? Here are three tips to keep your child safe.

1. Cultivate a strong relationship

Teens who have a strong relationship with their parents may be less likely to be influenced by traffickers who are looking for girls who are alone or isolated. Parents who are involved in their teen’s life will deter traffickers who may move on to easier targets.

2. Why Rules?

Teens rarely like rules, but they help keep them safe. Teens need to understand the reasons for rules and what can happen if they aren’t followed. These include: curfews, staying in groups, checking in, knowing friends, and where they plan to be. The more your teen understands the importance of rules to keep them safe, the more likely the rules will be followed.

3. Talk about Sex Trafficking

Talk about sex trafficking to your teen and show them stories of real people. Many teens are lured away from home with promises of modeling, becoming famous, love or making a lot of money. Traffickers start friendships online, in person or through friends and will often lie about their age. 

Most teens think sex trafficking only happens in faraway places or to other people. The Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates that 100,000 children and young women ranging in age from ages 9 to 19 are trafficked in America each year—with the average age of 11 years old. 

January was Sex Trafficking Awareness Month. You can join the Catholic Charities community helping sex trafficked survivors and combating trafficking of vulnerable teenagers. For more information or to become involved, please contact Tami Hartman at [email protected].

Founded in 1933, Catholic Charities provides care for the vulnerable of all faiths in Phoenix and northern Arizona through programs in foster care, early start education, housing, veteran services, refugee relocation and poverty reduction. Learn more by visiting Social connections include and