Separating Fact from Fiction in Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children


You see the hashtag trending everywhere: #savethechildren. 

With a record number of arrests and high-profile cases such as NXIVM and Jeffrey Epstein/Ghislaine Maxwell flooding our social media feeds, there is a growing awareness of the enormous problem of human trafficking. Even more specifically, there is a growing awareness and outcry over the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. Believe me, there should be an outcry. People should be outraged. People should be aware. Awareness is a good thing.

But it isn’t enough.

Awareness that brings true illumination does play a vital role in developing solutions that will provide safety and restoration to the vulnerable and exploited children of this nation. But awareness in and of itself never solved anything. Even more, when the desire to bring awareness unwittingly serves to sensationalize rather than foster an accurate understanding of the problem, it can actually distract from real solutions.

There should be an outcry. People should be outraged. People should be aware. Awareness is a good thing.
But it isn’t enough.

In the underground world of child sex trafficking, truth is often more nefarious than fiction. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the depravity involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The sheer magnitude of the problem would astonish many. I have first-hand knowledge of situations and stories that would shock even the most stoic. While it is difficult to exaggerate the scope and impact of the problem itself, it can be sensationalized in our attempts to bring awareness.

How is it sensationalized? Think of how often dramatic images, shock-inducing headlines, and even conspiratorial innuendo are shared on social media.  Sometimes I think those things are shared more broadly than factual information! Look at how fast people became judge and jury of Wayfair for a recent example. My point isn’t to discourage digging deeper when it appears things don’t add up but don’t rush to conclusions and continue to share information when you don’t have all the facts.

I don’t personally believe that social media is a particularly effective tool for intervention and change. While it is useful for shedding some light on a broad scale (I use it myself for that purpose), much of the information widely shared is speculative or only partially accurate at best. Widely distributed images of children bound and chained are NOT what most victims look like. Does that happen? Sadly, yes.

But a child who is being exploited, or even trafficked, is often more likely to look (and act) like the child living next-door. Not being aware of that fact can blind us to the signs of a child who needs help right in front of us.

I am grateful that many are coming to understand our children really are at risk. But as awareness grows, we’re all on a learning curve. As we learn, my prayer is that distractions will be kept to a minimum, and that wisdom, discernment, and compassion will prevail. I have no problem with a hashtag that carries with it the sincere desire and prayer that the vulnerable children of this nation, and of all nations, be rescued and kept safe. Let’s just make sure we are actually using it unto that end. Even more, let’s utilize every tool at our disposal to actually bring change. True change begins with the heart.  If your heart has been burdened by this issue, please prayerfully consider taking concrete steps beyond social media advocacy.

Here are some possible places to start:

  1. Educate yourself. Don’t take frequently shared or tweeted stories as fact. RESEARCH. Make sure the information you are sharing is both current and factual. Make sure there is a clear objective with anything you personally share. We want to spur change and action, not provoke outrage within an echo chamber. Beyond your own research, attend local seminars put on by law enforcement or other local experts. They are not hard to find. Discover what the “face” of trafficking really looks like in YOUR city.
  2. Pray. Give. Volunteer.  Find organizations, both locally and globally, that are already making a difference. Pray for them specifically, support them financially, and find out if there are opportunities to volunteer or support their efforts in other concrete ways.
  3. Become a foster parent. I can’t emphasize this enough. Children in the foster care system are incredibly vulnerable and at great risk of exploitation. Sadly, the exploitation often occurs within the system itself. Be one of the good guys and stop the cycle. Obviously, this is a huge, life-changing commitment and not something everyone is called to do. But if you can’t become a foster parent yourself, you can train to provide respite or find other ways of supporting local foster families. Check with your county’s social services or private Foster Family Agencies (FFA) to learn more.

These are just a few suggestions. There are many more. If even a fraction of the people who are vocal about this issue on social media, put the same amount of time and energy into well-researched, solution-based advocacy—that is undergirded by persistent prayer—our collective efforts to #savethechildren are more likely to bring about the lasting change our children need and deserve.

Cindy Powell

Cindy Powell is the Director of The Arising Global, a 501c3 nonprofit corporation, and the Editor of Voices of Justice, an online magazine that seeks to empower, inspire, and release voices of justice in the earth She can be reached at

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