This is how trafficking happens online. Often the system is so efficient that it never has to change to in-person.
There’s a team of adults waiting for the time a kid uses video games as a salve for emotional neglect. Neglect isn’t always intentional. It’s not always systematic. And parents cannot be available every second of every day. That’s why the team of adults is all of that: intentional, systematic and always available.
Person number one: Great at playing a certain video game. Looks for a kid who is playing a multi-player game alone, too much, at odd hours, with a low rank. Asks the kid to play and helps the kid win a lot. Talks over chat just like billions of other people but focuses to learn the kid’s schedule, likes and dislikes. Becomes a friend. Asks the kid to join a Discord server for other kids who play the game.
Person number two: Takes over and becomes a bad friend. Knows the game but not as well. Mostly talks to the kid. Makes the kid feel like part of a group on the server. Finds out from the first person what the kid wants, what is the kid’s weak spot, how to get close to the kid. Sends a picture of a topless girl to the kid.
Person number three: This person tells the kid that the photo is illegal. This is not illegal. But most parents say to their kid that it’s illegal, so the kid believes it. This person says if anyone finds out the kid will go to prison. The kid believes it. Calms the kid down. Scares the kid again.
Calms the kid again and introduces other kids. The kids are nice. The scares get scarier, like videos of those same kids getting hurt for not following directions. Most important directions: come back to the server when you’re told.
This person does everything over voice because this is the first person doing anything illegal. At this point, many kids say they are going to report the predator, but the predator points out that there is nothing to report — there is no evidence. And it’s true. The predators have been extremely careful.
Person number four: Gives orders to the kid for pictures. Teaches the kids to edit the way customers want. Shames kids for bad editing. It takes time to learn to edit, but kids learn fast, in between homework assignments, family gatherings, track meets.
The trafficker gets the kid to do things that are dangerous by giving praise, trains the kid to crave praise. Shows kid photos of other kids to normalize what they are doing. Also shows photos of kids they killed when the kids misbehaved. (Killed may or may not be true — for the kids it’s 100% true.)
Here’s what parents can do:
Tell your kid the real law instead of telling them all nude photos are illegal.
Don’t take your kid’s phone away. Kids will go online anyway by giving their friends their password. Your kid is better at keeping their account safe than their friend is.
For Discord think in terms of purpose: join a server to meet a specific goal. If there is no clear purpose get off the server.
This is just one way trafficking works on Discord. There are many other ways. Also, it’s not just Discord. This is how it works on Roblox. This is how it works on Fortnite. And no matter what game your kid plays, the gaming companies are full of employees who are also pedophiles, because of course pedophiles know the best ways to get access to kids.
I’m not telling you this to tell you to keep your kids off video games. It’s impossible and also nonsensical. I’m telling you that if you are not emotionally available for your kid, someone else will be. And just like you wouldn’t leave your kid physically alone on a dark street to be assaulted, you shouldn’t leave your kid emotionally alone on the Internet.
Traffickers look for kids who have no emotionally available adult. Emotionally available adults are not just “a phone call away” or “always at home”. Emotionally available adults are not consumed with their own emotions, they know what’s going on day to day, they listen carefully, and genuinely care.
Traffickers know this and they ask kids all the time “what’s going on?” and “how is your day”? and traffickers listen very carefully so they respond in a way that is meaningful to the kid.
Video games aren’t dangerous. Emotional neglect is dangerous.
If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking.