Child trafficking is often described as exploitation of vulnerability. And while it is true that traffickers don’t discriminate, anyone can become a victim, there are certain factors that could increase the risk of a child being groomed or trafficked.
Probably the most prominent risk factor is prior sexual abuse. Various reputable sources indicate that in more than 90% of cases, children know their abuser. It could be an older sibling or playmate, family member, a teacher, a coach or instructor, a caretaker, or the parent of another child. 
Other factors such as witnessing or being subjected to domestic violence or suffering physical or emotional neglect can all increase the child’s vulnerability and make them prime targets for traffickers.
Traffickers are quick to pick up on these vulnerabilities and will make promises of friendship, acceptance, love, food, clothes and a safe place to stay. Their goal is to build a trust relationship with the child so that they can isolate them from friends and family before starting the exploitation.
A quick Google search on neuroscientific research indicates that a person’s brain is not even fully developed until their mid 20’s, so most children are not able to make the right decision when confronted with the clever schemes and smooth talk of a trafficker, telling them exactly what they want to hear.
Of course, children that have been mentally prepared through open discussions with a trusted adult, or educated with age-appropriate prevention materials, are far more equipped to handle the situation.
So what can we do?
Parents can start by recognizing that anyone, literally anyone in their circle of friends or family could be a potential perpetrator, male or female. Through regular open discussions with our children, we can help them to be aware of the risks and reassure them that they can always speak to us about any uncomfortable situation, comments or inappropriate touch by a friend or family member without fear of getting into trouble.
Next is to be on the lookout for other children. By building healthy relationships with the children around us, we can make sure that they have a trusted adult that they can turn to when things go wrong. Encouraging a child to join a strong youth group is a practical way to provide the emotional support that the child needs instead of turning to potential traffickers for comfort.
Teachers have a crucial role to play in prevention and can often pick up on behavioral signs such as changes in hygiene, having trouble in school, increased absenteeism or a drop in grades, or inappropriate sexual knowledge or comments. When noticing these behaviors, you should immediately discuss your concerns with the school counsellor or contact your local Child Consultation Center (Japan). If there is no protocol in place at your school, please contact the ZOE Japan hotline on 050 3185 3322 for support.
If you see something, say something!