NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – There are more than just shoppers prowling for deals at local malls this holiday season. Predators may also be targeting teens for human trafficking.
News 2 spoke with Stacia Freeman, the CEO and founder of Epic Girl, which works to empower at-risk teen girls through education, mentorship and counseling.
Freeman says she educates her girls on what look out for when a man, woman, or couple approaches. She says predators use shopping malls and other places where young, teenage girls may not have adult supervision in order to find their victims.
“The girls we work with say the number one place where people approach them is the mall,” Freeman told News 2. “Their best strategy is to build a relationship so obviously they’ll show up in places where kids are likely to be and they might be unsupervised.
Freeman says predators will also pretend to be music video producers or photographers.
“We had a girl that came to our class who said she was approached by a man and a woman in a mall setting that said they were trying to find extras for a music video,” Freeman told us. “We’re in Music City so that’s possible. But she and her older cousin went and it was just an abandoned building.”
Freeman says parents need to build their child’s self-esteem so they don’t rely on strangers for validation, especially through mediums social media. She says predators could be in your teen’s bedroom through their phone or computer.
Freeman also told News 2 that girls with low self-esteem are often most vulnerable and most likely to be victimized.
“As parents, it’s not about ‘you can’t go to this, you can’t do anything of these things,’” she said. “It’s about empowering them so they feel equipped to make good decisions on their own behalf.”
Freeman suggests that parents take classes to learn about social media in order to supervise their children.
She also suggests parents watch videos like the Dove Self-Esteem Project with their daughters to then open a conversation about loving yourself.
Freeman encourages parents to visit LoveIsRespect.org, which helps teach girls what a healthy relationship looks like. She says the best way to empower your children is to set a good example by loving yourself and using less social media.