I sat down and spoke with my 13 year-old daughter the other day and I was immediately struck with two profound takeaways.
One, school is still a hotbed of cliques, class war and identity crisis with kids under pressure, yearning to be noticed. Back then it was Valley girl, today it’s VSCO, but take your pick.
Dancers, Emos, Jocks; a niche for every girl.
Two, life these days for our daughters is not a John Hughes film. I remember a time when adolescence was awkward. I can’t ever recall a time when it’s been this dangerous or heart wrenching.
In our conversation, she sent me a link to an article. How ‘online platforms are replacing physical meeting places for kids’. With screen times exploding, I don’t doubt that’s true. And just like the external and internal labeling our children experience every day in schools, it’s inescapable online as well.
Social platforms like Instagram, snapchat and, tiktoc are consuming our youth around the globe.
They’ve become the places where kids can follow and be followed. Where they can express themselves and perhaps lead in their respective genres. Good at sports? Post a video. Good at drawing? Post a video. You can dance? Post a video of some of the most amazing dance moves ever. “That’s your thing”, “that’s your brand”. Today’s kids are effectively branding themselves to the globe for popularity and it’s working. So, what’s the problem? Lurking behind the glow of a computer screen is the Buyer.
Behind the likes and the followers is an underworld of predators, each with their own ‘thing’. Maybe it’s ‘girls that play soccer’. Maybe it’s ‘girls that like to sing’, or ‘sexy dance routines’.
Statistics show that if your daughter is on social media she has been contacted multiple times by someone unknown to her. Because she IS their THING. Her selfie, her outfit, her dancing, her brand IS their THING.
We love our kids and are proud of their talents. But if your 11year old daughter just hit 25k followers because she can mimic J Lo in her bedroom, that’s concerning. Is she really that good a dancer or is ‘little girls dancing in their bedrooms’ a ‘menu option’ for some guys fantasy? The risks are real. We can’t possibly expect our children to understand the dangers of being reduced to a Buyers fetish. We need to equip our daughters with strategies to deal with strangers asking them to be their ‘online girlfriend’, or when they’re asked to send “pictures of her body” however underdeveloped it may be.
Consumers are drawn to brands; that’s Marketing 101. The underworld of sex trafficking is no different. If we continue to believe, “not my daughter”, or “these platforms are innocent”, our naivety will continue to fuel an illicit industry that continues to exploit our children.
Statistically, Ontario has the highest rate of police-reported human trafficking cases in Canada. 90 percent of the victims are female. We need to take a stand and bring those numbers down. Maybe you’re a part of the 20 percent of parents that have already implemented controls like Disney circle, or ParentKIT. Well done, your daughters chance of being lured into sex trafficking has been reduced by about 80 percent. I wish I could say they can safely carry on being little girls, dancing their little hearts out and making videos with their besties. But I can’t let my guard down. Because if I do, if I have zero parental controls, zero online security and stop educating my daughter about online interactions, I’ve helped feed a buyers’ market, where her brand can be passed around with impunity by a predator so large and so insidious, no price for a Parents vigilance will ever be too great.
Councillor Downey is a Peel Region Councillor representing Caledon, Chair of Health, Past Vice Chair of Human Services, Member of the Region of Peel Anti-Human Sex Trafficking Task Force, Member of Peel Human Trafficking Service Providers Committee.