Panama City, Fla. (WMBB) – Human trafficking, and sextortion have become a big issue in Bay County, which has one of the highest child victim per capita rates in Florida.
Authorities say traffickers are using social media grooming, threats, and coercion to target children. Experts tell us kids trust the traffickers, right up until the time they’re abducted.
“Social media gets more of our children every day than any other physical thing in this world,” said Corp. Amy Burnette of the Bay County sheriff’s office.
Burnette works on sex trafficking cases for the Bay County sheriff’s office. She said technology has made people less sensitive to the threats that come with easily sharing sensitive information.
It can start with an online game, the child will become comfortable with this stranger and not realize that they are being groomed. Traffickers groom children by pretending to be their friends, relating to them, and sending gifts.
“You can make a lot more flies with honey than you can with vinegar, so they are showered with gifts, they are given kind words, in the beginning,” Burnette said. “And there’s this familiar love that is falsely portrayed to the victims to get them lured into the trafficking world.”
Burnette said it’s similar to catfishing but has extremely serious consequences that can lead to the death of victims. Once they’ve been kidnapped, the sex trafficker coaches, coerce, and threaten the child into committing sex acts for money.
Experts encourage parents to pay attention to their child’s social media. The general public can also help by keeping their eyes and ears open for children in unusual circumstances.
“It’s very important to be cognitive of your surroundings and cognitive of what you see and hear,” Burnette said. “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck. Call us and let us knows we can follow up to see if it is human trafficking.”
Parents should also talk to their children about the risks of sharing private information.