LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Most teenagers are using Snapchat, Whatsapp, or Instagram. But you need to know, predators are using social media apps too.
It's the dark side of Las Vegas. And sex traffickers have learned they can reach beyond runaway teens into the bedrooms of kids in cities such as Summerlin and Anthem. And they're accessing your kids on social media.
Adia Lancaster is with New Hope Foundation International, an organization that educates our community about sex trafficking. "We have two lives now. An offline life and an online life. Whatever app has social capability, they are recruiting off of these apps."
Parents never think something like this can happen to their teen. But predators are patient and smart. Often they will target multiple students at a specific school at the same time. If they can interact with enough students online, other teens are more likely to think they are safe because they have friends in common. That's all it takes for your teen to let down their guard on social media.
Worldwide, the average age of a girl pulled into sex trafficking is 12 or 13. Here in Las Vegas, the average age is about 15 or 16. That's the age Michelle Balan's daughter was when a stranger made friends with her on social media.
"It was, there is a party let's go. The girls would go. A group of guys would go. They hang out. It became a friendship. Then it evolved. These guys said, 'We want to make some money'."
Sadly, Michelle's daughter was fooled into thinking it was no big deal to sell her body. But since she was still living at home, it didn't take long for Mom to catch on.
"She started coming home with items I didn't pay for and she didn't have a job. There was no explainable way she could have these items."
Michelle did what every parent must do. She became a social media detective:
- Download every app your child has.
- Learn how to use the app.
- Read their private messages.
- Consider locking or taking your teen's phone at night when they are most vulnerable.
Michelle reminds parents, "If you're paying for that phone, if they are living under your roof, you should have full access and get into your kid's phone and know how these apps work."
Michelle worked with detectives to nail her daughter's 17-year-old pimp. And she went on to found Community Heal, an organization that helps trafficked girls. But she's hoping this story is a wakeup call for parents who think this could never happen to their teen.
"Kids have access to the entire world and therefore the world has access to them. That's what's so scary."