SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) – Last week a South Dakota doctor was arrested on human trafficking charges for his alleged sexual relationship with a runaway teen from Georgia.
Authorities say their relationship began online, a story anti-human trafficking organizations call “all-too common.”
“Pretty text book actually,” Ashley Statema said. “That’s why we find it very important to get in front of these teens before this happens.”
Statema and Polly Dean are the co-founders of the anti-human trafficking program The New Colossus.
“We go over social media safety a lot with the kids and parents too, one of our big things is open and honest communication,” Dean said.
The New Colossus focuses on prevention by speaking to teenagers around South Dakota about just how easy it is to enter into a sex-trafficking arrangement online.
“We’ve been in front of a classroom and a student has kind of had that ‘aha’ moment of ‘oh my gosh, this is what it looks like, and I am having those conversations online. this is what it looks like,'” Statema said.
Advocates say teens are easily susceptible to what sounds like an ideal arrangement online.
“It’s males offering them jobs and the salary is unbelievable, it’s too good to be true,” Dean said. “They’re not going to say scary things online, they’re going to say enticing things, they’re going to be fun they’re going to be cool and they’re going to have a lot to offer you.”
Alluring offers that often lead teens to situations they’d never considered before.
“They send pictures and they don’t understand these pictures could last forever,” Dean said.
“Behind the computer or behind the phone, it’s really easy to say things that you’re not proud of, and so I think we also like to give students a platform and give them permission to speak up if something like this has happened to them,” Statema said.
Vulnerable teens like runaways or those in foster care are often the target of these online attacks, but advocates say it can happen to anyone.
“It could also be someone from a loving home that just got into the wrong group of people on the computer and is searching for meaning somewhere,” Dean said.
The New Colossus works to empower teens to take responsibility for their own actions online by helping them understand the potential consequences.
Sioux Falls Police say it’s also important for parents of teens to know what apps and websites your children are using and even know the passwords for all those accounts.