One picture. One simple picture changed my life forever.
It's tricky, really. Balancing a job, juggling numbers every week, and keeping a household running smoothly with my sweet baby. However James, being five, was far from a baby. Being a single mom isn't all I dreamed it would be. Never letting my child see the inner struggle, I put my happy-mom-face on every morning. Watching the little love of my life walk around and giggle over how many pancakes can be shoved in his mouth and treasuring every single snuggle, I wouldn't trade his smiles for the world.
But, I was ignorant. Ignorant of how to be a better mom. How to protect his innocence and coping with my single-parenting style. So, looking back, I know that I messed up. Big time. My priorities were wrong.
I was busy. I was neglectful of his surroundings. I was focused on providing, not protecting.
It all started when I picked James up from kindergarten. He usually rode the bus, but that day I was taking him to a friend's house for a playdate while I went grocery shopping. James looked so sweet standing there, waiting for me with a huge smile just for me. I couldn't help it. I pulled out my phone and had to capture the precious moment. I asked him to pose in front of the school. Giving me his heart-melting grin, I took the picture and excitedly showed my five-year-old boy. He gave me a quick, "Nice mom!" and ran ahead to the car. Posting the picture to my Facebook timeline, I waited for all the likes to come in from my extended family who loved seeing James grow up.
I didn't know. As I headed to the car, I didn't know. Completely ignorant of what was to come, I didn't know the repercussions of my actions. Because after all, what had I even done wrong?
One week after I posted the picture of James at school, the school bus slowed at the curb. The loud brakes squealed in protest at the abrupt stop. Standing by my driveway, I waited patiently for my little guy. But he never got off the bus. Nobody ran to see me.
James went missing that day.
I went into a panic. Nothing made sense. Nobody saw or heard anything. The school didn't know where he went, his friends knew nothing, everybody was as clueless as myself. Where was he??
Filling out a missing person's report at the police station, I sat in a defeated heap. Waiting for the busy officers to find my baby, I didn't know what to do. How could he have just disappeared? I remember sitting at home and thinking about how scared he must be. Completely helpless to saving James, I waited.
And waited some more.
It was three long months before I heard anything. Being contacted by an officer, I was told that my baby boy was rescued. Found in a rundown house, he had been bound and surrounded by thirteen other children. All of them were captives.
Running to the station, I found James in the row of kids sitting down. Pulling him into my arms, I remember shaking and tearing up. He cried and held onto me like I was connected to the oxygen he breathed. Refusing to let go, I looked at the officer. He began to tell me that James and the children were pulled into trafficking. My baby boy was sexually abused by other men who paid for him. We may never know how many times or by how many people, but it is with certainty that James will never be the same.
How did it happen? Every single child with James had a different story. But it was my fault that James was kidnapped. My ignorance caused my baby trauma.
It was the Facebook post. A simple picture led a trafficker to James.
Apparently, my niece befriended a trafficker online, so he had access to the picture I posted when she liked it. Traffickers are also known as pimps. This sick man targeted my baby after he saw my picture. All he needed was the name of the school that James attended every day. And it was provided in the photo. Supposedly, the trafficker actually stalked James for a few days before approaching him after school.
This man told James that his mother, ME, wanted him home. But not on the bus. With him. James trusted what this man told him. So the man picked him up from school but didn't take him home. And my five-year-old boy now has scars so deep, I fear for him. I fear for his mind. I fear for his future.
The officer told me that there's an increase of over 774% of online child porn images and videos. There are people scouring the internet for pictures of exploited children. After watching and watching, they want to experience it for themselves. So what do they do? They purchase little kids to sexually abuse. Yes, they pay for them. They actually put money into the hands of traffickers and feel that they have the right to force sex onto minors.
I found out afterward that keep up with the demand and find the supply.... victims. Real human beings who are used as commodities for evil desires.
I found out afterwards that it isn’t just Facebook that predators use. It is every digital, social media platform where traffickers can be in contact or have access to a child. I learned the hard way to protect James.
Not having a clue that predators are tracking and targeting innocent individuals, this mom inadvertently put her son in danger. Speaking up about the pains of trafficking is essential to understanding what happens in the real world.
Educating this woman could have prevented the trauma of having her son experience such abuse. Being aware of the dangers can avoid so much hurt.
Be a vigilant parent and protect your loved ones!