Foster youth or children who have been in the foster care system make up over 80% of children being sexually exploited. What can you do to prevent this from happening to your child? We talk with Audrey Morrissey, Co-Executive Director of My Life My Choice, a survivor-led nonprofit fighting sexual exploitation of youth.
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Welcome, everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I am the host of this show, as well as the director of the nonprofit creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about protecting our kids from sexual exploitation and trafficking. This is a topic that a lot of the children that we serve in our families parents are vulnerable to. So I am very much looking forward to this discussion. Today we're going to be talking with Audrey Morrissey, she is a co executive director of the organization, My Life My Choice, which is a nonprofit fighting sexual exploitation of you. Alright, so Andrey, what are some of the different forms that sexual exploitation can take? What do we what do we mean? How broad is that category?
Oh, my goodness is uh, you know, exploitation can go anywhere from street prostitution, strip clubs, gang based exploitation into familiar exploitation. We know today it's internet based exploitation is really big. It can also come in the form of child pornography. So there are so many different areas of which a young person can be exploited.
Yeah, how does this differ from sexual trafficking? Or is it one of the same?
It is one of the same anytime you are, I have to be clear that at my life, my choice, you know, we serve youth. And we've worked with adolescent youth under the age of 18, who either it has been revealed that the young person has been exploited, or is at high risk for exploitation. And so the age range that we predominantly serve is underwriting usually starting the youngest is probably around the age of 12. We know that it can also happen at a younger age. But what we know for sure, monitor nationally, the average age for entry is 12 to 14 years old, where EUR USD can be trafficked. And to be clear, trafficking of a youth doesn't, it doesn't necessarily mean state lines, if you are exploiting a child, and someone is profiting from the sale from the sale of that youth, that is trafficking and is commercial sex, we use the term commercial sexual exploitation of children. But under the law, if there was a charge brought against the exploited the charge would be for trafficking.
Okay, and that does not mean that it has to go across state lines is that absolutely not
absolutely not in Massachusetts, as long as they can, as long as you can prove that someone is selling a youth under the age of 18, they will be they will be charged with human trafficking. There was a time exploiters might have beat a case by saying, Hey, she had a fake ID or he had a fake ID, or you know, I didn't know. And in those cases, usually, if they did have a fake ID, and those circumstances, it's usually a fake ID that the exploiter had gotten from them in the first place. But they would, you know, could be the case in that way. But and Massachusetts, if you are found, if you are found to have sold the child, you will be charged with human trafficking.
And I would assume that this is our audience is national. So I'm assuming that this would be the case in most states that the laws is covered by state law unless you're crossing state lines, and then that's a federal law. But But assuming that it's going to be covered by state law, most states have, if not all states, have youth trafficking, sexual trafficking law, so we listen.
Absolutely, absolutely. And as you said, the charges you know, for crossing state lines, like you said, tracting, a child across from state to state would be a whole nother charge. But the bottom line is that the safe harbor law, which is in most states protects Youth Against Human Trafficking, like our department, the Massachusetts Department of children's and families, you can file 51 A's, and there's someone in all of our Child Protective Services offices who heads up human trafficking, so that when it is when someone files a 51 A which is you know abuse of a child, those cases go directly to the person who oversees that department and child welfare system and all
child welfare systems have a child sexual exploitation person. I know of no state that doesn't have that can't be reported to there. We have some exciting new news, and that is that we now are offering 12 free online courses At the creating a family.org online Parent Training Center, these courses are brought to you by The jockey being Family Foundation, you can access them by going to Bitly, slash JBS support. That's bi T dot L, Y, slash j, b f support, go into that page, you will see the 12 courses, you can click to buy them, and they will be free when you go to check out the $20 charge, but will not be there. So you will get them for free. And you can use them for of course, just improving your parenting. But if you also need continuing education or in service training as a foster parent, most organizations accept these courses, they come with a certificate of completion, check it out. Let's talk about the forms of internet exploitation. As we you and I both know that is one of the predominant problems that we see. So how does that look? What How are children victimized utilizing the internet?
First of all, most of the recruitment now is done on the internet, myself as a survivor of the commercial sex industry. When I was younger, and I was recruited in, it was face to face recruitment. We know now that our youth are on social media at an enormous rate. And you know, even the youth that I work with, I'm like, when I call them very rarely do they even hold phone conversations, I can dial their phone, they won't answer but even if I text them or go through social media spot, Yep, I'll get a response. And so traffickers know that that's where I use are hanging out. So they're in all of those sites. And then a lot of times,
they how do they get the phone numbers for the kids?
Well, you don't need phone numbers or text to social media.
Oh, you do? Okay. You're doing they're not messing up. They're just they're there. Yeah.
Right. So that's how they're really getting them through social media, you know, someone requests, you know, because it's, it's really about, like having a lot of followers, you know, the Facebook thing that the young people they want nothing to do with that Facebook mouse for old people. Yeah. Right. But you have all these other sites. And if you have all these followers, you know, if you ask, well, who's that guy you're talking to? Well, that's my friends, friends, friend. So I say that to say, even the recruitment begins online, it could be a young person has a picture up, as given example, in a bikini, right? person sees this photo, and then Oh, my God, you're really sexy. Oh, my goodness, you know, you could really make a lot of money with that body, you know, oh, my God, you shouldn't even be posting those pitches, let you know, people are looking at you, you know, you know, I can make you a star, you could be a model. But the bottom line, whatever tactic that they use, once they have gotten the trust of this use, then it becomes setting up that in that in person meeting, right. And then after that in person meeting, I just walk you through the youth we serve at my life by choice where they think of a young person I've worked with, and talking with someone online, and then they they meet the person at the library, right? She thought she was slick enough. I'm not going to tell you where I live, but I'll meet you at the library. And then she ended up leaving the library with he took her across state lines. He took her to a hotel. He did what he had sex with her did what he wanted to do with her, and then took a picture of her. This is how easy it is online. He took a picture of her in her bra and panties, posted it online. This is so easy. This is posted online on a site. And within an hour there was someone at the hotel door a buyer there to purchase her. Right. And so that is how our youth are being being sold. In my day. We were visible right there was the street people saw you. Someone will see you on the corner tell you other I seen your daughter in the combat zone. What is happening now there are 1000s and 1000s of ads. It's easy to move you from state to state to state to state, right, and place them in a hotel room. And I'll tell you something, when I think about a young person being in a hotel room, and the only person that knows she's in that hotel is the exploiter that put her there and the buyer that's buying her we have to be really like when I was in a life. If a buyer said to me Listen, come to my hotel room. I'm in Rome 301 There were many times that went to the hotel. And I was stopped in the lobby Miss where you going? Do you have a room here? And I always ask people do you think they stop a white male when he goes into a hotel room? lobby to go to room 301 to purchase one of our children. Do you think anyone ever stops him and says, Sir, do you have a room here? Absolutely not. So online is where all of the most of the recruitment has taken place. And 80% of the sales of children is online.
Yeah, so the typical scenario is that the exploiter finds young people online, starts up a conversation wins their trust sets up a personal meeting. And that from that point on the child is being exploited is that the typical scenario? The typical
scenario, and here's the thing, it doesn't have to happen. Remember with online this exploit him, he's trying to might be talking to 10 and 15. Us at a time. Do you understand what I'm saying? Because I'm sure it's online. So we're one he might gain their trust and a week, another one, it might take two months or three months. But however long it takes to groom this young person, and a lot of times they exploiters if they know they're talking to a 16 year old, that a lot of times they're saying their kid to right until they right, meet them in person, and then it'll start with Oh, send me a picture, you know, then it's right, they might go to sending pictures of body parts. And I've seen that happen a lot to where they think it's safe, because they're online and exchanging photos. And then that exploiter says, right, if you don't work for me, you're like, I'm going to put these pictures all over the internet. So there's all kinds of tactics that are being used. But when you think of that exploiter whose role is to recruit youth. Through social media, you're talking someone who set up I'm talking to sit not on that computer for hours might be talking to a list of victims two or three at a time. Yeah, and grooming them because, you know, the process of gaining their trust. So it is so so common, that even even now through video games, even our boys who are, you know, playing video games, our youth are talking to strangers, people that they don't know, whether it's through gaming, or through the internet. We've heard it's particularly with boys, right? Gaming, that, you know, they're talking to these adult, these adult men, and are constantly talking to people that they don't know.
Yeah, and, and when you talk about grooming, it's basically gaining trust. That's what we mean by grooming.
Exactly. And when we talk about tactics, there are four major tactics that exploit issues befriending so got one you can be friend online coercion, you sent me the picture via with no with no clothes on if you don't work for me, I'll show these to someone, right? Or I'll get your little sister I know, you told me where your little sister goes to school. Right? And then you have in person with our gang members who are cashing in force, right? But then the most powerful tactic of them all is the tactic of seduction. And you can seduce someone. Listen, when I used to lean towards God to really seduce someone, you'd have to be in person, but social media is such a thing and a way of communication. You can seduce all those tactics you can use online
and seduction means your beautiful things like you're beautiful I would I want to date you or
getting her to fall madly in love with with them. You know what I'm saying? And you know, I was saying like in person, a lot of my youth who are in the foster care system group homes, who tend to be missing from care a lot who end up in this person's house this person has house and then they find this the wonderful let's let's the you've stayed there he has his own apartment the sexes Grady's buying her nice things. You know, he has my back. Her friends are saying oh my god, girl, would you meet him? He's so nice to you write? And then all of a sudden, it's like, can you do this for me? Just this once? Listen, baby. I know I don't really want to ask you this, but I've been holding down the apartment. I've been looking out for you. I'm a little short on the rent. If you could do this for me just this once. And of course the youth who was looking for love in all the wrong places anyway, right? thinks that oh my god, I found Mr. Wonderful. I've been living here for like a month or two months, and are usually usually used to be missing from care. And they might get to spend the night somewhere, but they usually will put them out, you know, have sex with them, you gotta leave after a day or two. But Mr. Wonderful is, you know, taking them shopping, you know, all this stuff. And seduction is the most powerful of the four because that's the one where we try and help that they might tell us to eff off. And the youth are not using terms like that's my exploiter, that's my tent. That's my boyfriend.
Yeah, exactly. That's my boyfriend, and you do things for a boyfriend that you wouldn't do for other people.
Exactly, exactly. And when you think of, you know, like the media will show like, you've tied to a radiator, or you know, that nonsense that the media portrays with human trafficking is, and I'm not saying that doesn't happen. But my life my choice, we've been around for almost 20 years, I found that our mentoring program back in 2004, we have yet to get a case where they said found in a basement chained to a radiator, you know, in the sand. And people use terms like we rescued, there's no such thing as rescue. Now, if I found a youth chained to a radiator in a basement, I can use the term rescue then because they're never gonna go back to that situation. What I want people to be clear, particularly around the seduction tactic is that you think of a cult leader, right? Who gets their followers to believe what they believe, see the world through their eyes, right? Same thing here. They are on lockdown. Absolutely. But the chains are invisible. The most powerful way to lock someone up is mentally you get more out of them. You can control them easier mentally than locking them up in a row my tie in right and well, let's keep it 100 holes, what buyer in most cases, you know, yeah, I want to buy that person, I'm coming to buy that person that's in your basement chained up. You know what I'm saying? That's not That's not how this this works. But brainwashing is in such a way that makes the victim believe that this is, you know, I think of myself, this is what I'm supposed to do. This is my man, you know, when I saw the bias Hi, honey, you know, acting like I was having a good time when my skin was crawling each and every time. Right? But that was the power. That in my case, the seduction, right. That's my boyfriend. And I am happy to do this. For him. We have you know what I'm saying? I'm dead. You know, I have his back. And so people being really mindful of what it really looks like versus what you might see the media portray what human trafficking is.
Did you know that this podcast has been going on for 14 years? Yep. 14, we got in on the very beginning before podcasting was a thing. That means the good news for you? Well, first, we have a lot of experience. But second, the good news for you is that we have a huge treasure trove library of archive shows that are directly on point for your role as an adoptive foster or kinship parent. So you can access this archive by subscribing to our podcast, subscribing, or following wherever, whatever is, whatever podcast app you use, just search for our name. And please subscribe or follow today. Our foster children disproportionately represented in the sexually exploited population.
Absolutely. Let me tell you 88% of the youth we serve at my life, my choice are in our child welfare system. 88%. And out of that 88%, probably, at least half of them are in foster homes. And what makes all the youth right because I consider even kids in foster home are overseen by the Department of Children and Families, right until they're adopted. Right. And they're our most vulnerable population. And a lot of them are youth of color. Right? Who are sold at an even lower rate than a white child might be sold. And so you know, sexism, classism, racism, all of that plays out in the world of exploitation as well and exploit us know who those youth are. They know the youth from the group homes, they know the youth who are in foster care by the youth. Again, they given up more information. When I think of the prevention groups that I've ran over the years, I like my choices to prevent youth, we have a 10 week prevention curriculum in which is used in 34 states across the country and in Canada. And we go in schools, group homes, etc. And when I'm running those groups, one of the things that I've found is that a lot of the youth are in foster care foster homes or in group homes, who have a history of being missing from care, they tend to tell, you know, some random person that they don't know at the time is an exploiter, I'm in a foster home, or I'm in a group home. And, you know, I'm usually really grateful with the youth. And I will always say them jokingly, but serious, I'm like, well, sweetie, get out of an amateur. Because if you're leaving the program, so you know, you got to talk the language. If I use MIDI, I'd stay in the program, because this is amateur behavior, people who you don't tell strangers, that you're in a foster home, or you're in a group home. So Sweetie, you should stay in the foster home or the group home to be safe. You know what I mean? Because you're giving exploiters the information, the exact information that they're looking for, to take advantage of you. Even if they're not people who want to sell you, even if it's about meeting their needs, you don't want them saying because they know that you're in a vulnerable situation. And and I say that you just say, you know, I think now you know, I don't have exact numbers. I don't mentor like I used to, but the last time I checked, you know, we had a caseload serving right now at least 200 And something kids, and out of that choose something mostly most, you know, again, 88% of them are either there in our child welfare system, whether it's a group home or a foster home.
Yeah. And I would imagine that that our kids are particularly our foster children, or our children who have experienced trauma of any sort, are particularly vulnerable. Yes, because they're seeking connection, they're seeking love, for any any number of reasons.
Well, we're looking for love in all the wrong places, when you'll be looking for love if if you are in the foster care system, if your parents weren't there because of substance abuse, when you're used, you don't understand that your parent is suffering from an from an illness, or severe mental health, you think your parent is choosing the drugs over you. My mother loves drugs more than she loves me, right? And so when kids are in those systems, we all want love, right? And so what happens is, were working with youth who are looking for love in all the wrong places. They're looking for someone to replace the love that they're not getting from their mother, or they're not getting from their father, right? We all want to belong. We all want to feel that. We're a part of something, particularly the abandonment. Give me an example. I've listened to youth that I've worked with. I've seen things like, you know, Audrey, my mother's gonna come see me next week. I haven't seen her in two years. My worker said she can come see me. And then the mother doesn't show up. Then the youth says to me, and I'm, I can't tell you how many youth have said this to me. Mom doesn't show up. What happens, you go to the foster home for the visit, right? The next week, right? Because we're mentoring, we'd see them weekly, and you get there and they're like she took off yesterday, because mom didn't show up. And the youth have said to me, Audrey, I don't care anymore. And so, when you even as an adult, if I walk out of my building right now with an attitude of ethic, because that's what they say, eff it, I don't care anymore. Even as a grown up, what kind of trouble am I gonna get into? What right one I go out there with with that attitude as an adult. So imagine a youth whose parent let them down. What sounds bet what sounds good. You're so cute. Oh, baby, I've been looking for someone like you, baby I love you. Listen, if that foster home and those feeds, they're just getting a check baby. We can stack money and I'll take care of you. You know what I'm saying? And that is what I hear. So often. If someone feels unloved, they're gonna search for it. And it's and it doesn't fall in what we think is is healthy right upon
was never in that case if you're exactly Yeah, exactly. What about sexual exploitation of boys? Is it similar or different from the exploitation of girls?
Well, we know that there was John Jay College did a study some years ago in New York. And one of the things that they found the average age for boys, I believe, was 15 years old.
And some of the older Yeah, they're coming in older, which is good.
Some of the boys I mean, it's not good. There's still a minor, there's a gap, and it's still better than 12 men. Yeah, yeah. But, you know, it depends on the mental because you can be 15 and have a mentor. Right. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So what we have to be mindful Children are children, right? Whatever, their children, we have to really keep that upfront. And I say that because due to all the trauma, most of the youth that we're working with, even if they're 15, eight out of 10 of them mentally are 12. Right? or younger, young, great mentally, right. And yeah, yes. And that also makes them very vulnerable. And so what we found with the boys was this, most of it is peer driven. Boys are less likely to have exploiters. It's not unheard of, but where the abuse comes with the boys, or the adult men who are purchasing them, right. So we have to remember, like boys might get pulled out of their home because of their sexual orientation or this their, you know, their sexual, you know, how they dress, and they get put out of their homes. And it's usually their peers who will show them how to survive on the street. Right. But the harm is that it is men who ply sex, and it is men who buy sex from the girls, from the boys and from the trans youth. Right? But yes, our boys are out there and exploitation does occur, but they don't have exploiters at the rate that girls have, right meaning someone who's profiting from the sale of them.
Mm hmm. Yeah, I see that I see that distinction. We want to vache children's house international for their support of the creating a family show. Children's House International is a Hague accredited international adoption agency, currently placing children from 14 countries with families throughout the US. They also provide consulting for international surrogacy thanks children's house International. So what can parents do to protect their children from sexual exploitation? be they a foster child, or a child that's been adopted from foster care or a child that's in your home have a birth child but our demographics we aim for the foster adoptive and kinship? So what can parents do to combat this and to protect their children?
Talk about it. Here's the thing. I have some great news. I don't know when the finished product will be finished. I know next month. Nikita Leila and I, who was the director of training at my life, my choice. We did a video for foster parents some years ago. And that particular video ended up being owned by a Department of Children and Families. But next month, we will be making a series of videos specifically for foster parents. And so what I would encourage people to do will be doing the filming and if I had to guess, after editing, and so forth, and we'll own that we'll have the rights to that. And so I just want to say out loud, our organization is called My Life My choice. And you can put my contact information Audrey Morrissey, co executive director of my life my choice, check our website, reach out to me. And once that video is edited and ready to and I don't know how we're marketing it, I don't know if we're selling I don't know how that's gonna go yet. But we are we are working on that right now.
The website is my life, my choice.org and this would be sometime in the first half of 2022. So people can go check the website out there. So what are some specific things that you can tell parents now that they could do to protect their children? One, talk about it, bring it up, let them know that you are aware that this exists, and the dangers of sharing anytime Put the information online and that most people are not who they say they are online. So that that would be certainly one thing. What's another thing that parents can do to protect their children from sexual exploitation?
Well, making sure, again, it depends on what state you're in. You can look, go onto my life, my choice website, as well. Kyle Munchkin is our Director of prevention. And as I said, our groups are ran in 34 states across the country. So one thing to do is you can look her up as well, to see if our prevention groups are ran in your area in any of the schools, she'll be more than happy to help you with that. That's a good resource. If not, the bottom line is we have to sit down with us talk about it, and ask, here's the thing, because a lot of times this has happened to our youth, and they haven't said anything. If they're coming into your home, part of that interview process, just like they're sitting with new meeting, you ask them, have you ever had to exchange sex for money, food, shelter? And if they asked you, why are you asking that? All you have to do is say I asked all foster kids that question, you know, because I want to support you if that has happened to you. And I say that, because if you talk about it, and let them know, this is a safe space, it's okay to talk about that here. They're more likely to come to you, right? Maybe if they meet some guy, and they said, hey, you know, so this guy asked me for this step and a third, and you're able to say, you know, that doesn't sound right. You want a you want youth to know that you care about what happens out there, you want them to know that exploitation is real, right? And be honest with you sand and I understand your vulnerabilities. I know that it's, you know, life has dealt you a hand, that can be difficult at times. But let's talk about that. And prevent anyone from taking advantage of that, because people are mean and nasty. And they will take advantage of your mishap. Mm hmm. So you have to talk about it, you have to, you have to have those conversations. But what I'm really what I'm really excited about, again, that I'm going to, I'm going to say and you and I can be in connection, so that you can get it out to your audience, that we will have videos, and this specifically for foster parents. But now you just have to talk about it.
So okay, so talking about it, letting your youth know that this is a safe place, and that you're not blaming them, because oftentimes, they're blaming themselves at this point. So letting you know that this is a non judgement zone that this is happening to you. We are a safe place to talk about it. Also, as much as you can be aware of where your kids are going. I mean, if they're leaving, and they're and they're out for a night, don't just assume if they say they're at their girlfriend's house, if that's where they are.
Right? That's right, make those calls, check with other parents. Do you know my daughter or my son's coming, just wanted to check with you. She's right before you let your youthful and here's the thing, if you start noticing the youth coming in with expensive things like a high end phone, high end hairstyles, upgrade and clothing, maybe a tattoo like $1 sign or a barcode on the back of their neck. Those are like be aware of the red flags hanging out with older kids, you know, paying attention if they were like, you know, they come into your home and they're in jeans and sneakers and then next week they have lashes weave, right and many skirt. I'm not talking about a slow transition because I think of myself. You know, I always wore jeans and sneakers I was the girl I don't wear dresses. And then when I started to it was like a style of wearing one once a week, you know, I had to transition into the girly thing. I'm talking about a transition that happens overnight. And I mean right down to I remember a clinician called me one year the red flag for her was that the youth had been missing from care for the whole weekend and came back with a very expensive hairdo. And the youth of course denied it but had been exploited.
And the thing is, if the change, it requires money, so where you're noticing that the change is nice nails, a weave, whatever you're noticing, and it requires money, then somebody is providing the money.
That's right. That's right. And the money is usually provided from the back in the sale of that young person who's living in your home. Right? So being mindful of the goods, and also exploitation, sometimes it's not always cash, sometimes the exchange is goods, right? Meaning some adult male might be having sex with that use in buying them things. So really paying attention, when you know, let's just say you're a foster parent, and you you know, you're a foster and a child that's from your neighborhood, you might even know who the parents are, and they might right. And you know, that family, if the youth is in contact with the family, and you know, they can't afford it. That was another red flag. You know what I'm saying like this kid had things that they knew that the family couldn't afford, when the kid lied and said, Oh, my mother bought it for me, they knew the family couldn't afford it. So be really, really paying attention to those things.
Excellent. So any other final words for being a foster adoptive parents and how to protect their kids, it's a such good that the red flags are such good, connecting it to any type of something that's going to take money in this in the money will be required to buy is another good any any parting words for our audience on how to protect their children from sexual exploitation?
What first, I want to say thank you, to the foster parents who are willing, and the adoptive parents, we need more of you. But what I will say to you is to be more effective. Again, and I'll say this over and over again, go to the My life, my choice website, one thing that we offer, if nothing else, one of the most important things that we offer our trainings on commercial sexual exploitation of children. So if you don't understand the issue, I would strongly suggest going on our site, saying when we're having those trainings, and show up to get to get the education that you need, because you can't support exploited you. If or you can't prevent exploitation, if you're not trained in the area and know what to look for yourself. So take the time and assume don't have as a foster parent don't assume all that the youth will be taken in that won't be that issue. You don't know. This is information that anyone who was housing you working with you. This is information that folks should get. So again, reach out, and we will we do trainings all year long on commercial sexual exploitation of children. Okay, we also so please look us up.
Okay. Thank you so much, Audrey Morrissey for being with us today to talk about this topic. We truly appreciate it.
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