An Advocate’s Response to the #Savethechildren Movement

December 17, 2020

No doubt, most reading this blog post are aware of the #savethechildren or #saveourchildren movement that has ignited local communities to organize around a narrative that still demands clarity and pushback. The movement, a response to alleged child sex trafficking in high places by the rich and politically powerful, who have keep secret (until now) a vast criminal network of child snatching, selling, and abuse. Although child sex trafficking does involve those things, the movement has created confusion around the real problem.

Learning about the prevalence of child trafficking can turn the world of empathetic people upside down, who naturally want to “do something” in response. In this case, the emotionally fervent outcry has drawn many to publish misleading and incomplete information about the sex trafficking of minors.  It has also attracted the QAnon followers, who have piggybacked the anti-human trafficking movement to push the issue as a Deep State phenomenon supported by their political enemies, and it has led many to co-opt language that should exclusively belong to those abolitionists who risked their lives to facilitate the freedom of black enslaved people.

While the urge to fight the injustice of child sex trafficking, and the desire to help victims is the right response, let’s think first about the misguided and harmful impact of misinformation and “fake news.”

First of all, some of the arguments used to promote “saving the children” are problematic: spreading the urgent message of child sex trafficking is the “real” protest we should be having, and child sex trafficking is the “real” virus we should be responding to is irresponsible at best, dismissive at worst, to very real racial injustice and very real health threats of COVID, especially for those populations dismissed by the anti-protest language. We do not need false dichotomies to fight child sex trafficking.

Second, the message to end child sex trafficking by threatening to hunt down and destroy perpetrators with a para-military style takeover of communities, coupled with imagery of guns, religious nationalism, and flags (US and Confederate) is problematic, especially given the historically and current complex relationship communities are having with law enforcement. Displays of the brute force of ex-military heroes leading rescue missions or “extractions” does not contribute to a trauma-informed response. Storming the shores of Normandy against entrenched Nazis is one thing, engaging communities and potential victims of trafficking this way is another.

Third, the movement is led by those who treat child sex trafficking as a one-dimensional problem: the trafficker and the buyer, which points to a one-dimensional solution: locate, snatch, and deliver the children safely to their parents then publish victory headlines. As advocates we know that is not how it goes. Identifying a ten year old traded for drugs or rent by their family is not the end of their troubles, but an extraordinary complex and messy journey towards justice and healing--but those leading this #savethechildren movement are unaware of that. They ARE, however, well meaning and well funded. But this is not enough. Those who want to address sex trafficking of minors must learn from local, statewide, and national experts who have been doing the work for years, and are connected with networks of services and resources. Raise money and awareness in collaboration with trusted local, statewide, and national organizations such as: North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault, North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking, North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence, North Carolina Human Trafficking CommissionFreedom Network USA, Polaris Project, Shared Hope International, National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and Save the Children, for example.

And finally, but most importantly, messages about human trafficking that do not reflect an understanding of structural oppression and inequities impacting marginalized populations is an incomplete message. What does this mean? Consider:

Black girls are trafficked everyday in North Carolina communities, out of group homes, by men who pulled them out of school to take them to motels and homes, who force their abortions, and make them sells their drugs. These girls are seen as fast, delinquent, ratchet, and NO CONCERN OF OURS.

Latina girls are sold, are made to work in brothels, or sold in neighborhoods, but are told by their communities they shouldn't even be there, they and their families are resented. They do not come forward to get help because they are afraid of DSS, afraid of law enforcement, afraid of being treated exactly the way the trafficker tells them they would be treated. AND THEY ARE NO CONCERN OF OURS.

Young girls and boys sexually abused by parents get in trouble at school, eventually stop attending, eventually flee their homes, and at 14, they stay in hotels with friends and sell their bodies to pay for the drugs they use to cope. They are the problem the community wants to get rid of. They are the bad girls you see at the park we keep our children from. They are meth heads. AND THEY ARE NO CONCERN OF OURS.

LGBTQ youth run away from a unsafe homes and trade sex with adults for places to crash at night. Their transactions are filmed and used against them, threatened to be exposed. They are mistreated at the hospital, they are mistreated and harassed on the streets. Unwelcome, ignored. AND THEY ARE NO CONCERN OF OURS.

Until we learn to see how human trafficking impacts the most vulnerable, we cannot truly address it in our communities. The question we should ask ourselves: which children are we really concerned about? #saveALLthechildren.


For further reading:

Blog Post by Courtney Dunkerton, NCCASA's Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist