I have spent my entire adult life working with kids from trauma. So the mixed feelings I have about the #saveourchildren moment we’re having as a society right now are surprising even to me. I want to jump on board with this idea that we’re going to get all worked up about protecting children, but I’m just not seeing that idea coupled with steps that protect the actual children who are most at risk.

It’s been amazing to see states working to rescue children from sex trafficking. We are seeing stories of heroism and I’m so thankful we are using resources to find kids and get them out of situations where they were in danger, but the question remains: WHO ARE THESE KIDS?

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They aren’t your children. They aren’t my children. It’s highly unlikely they were stolen out of shopping carts at Target or from a Walmart parking lot like the viral social media stories would have you believe. There are actual risk factors for sex trafficking and none of them involve having a parent who wasn’t obeying her “gut feeling” about the “creepy” stranger at the grocery store one time. Kids are at risk who have already experienced sexual abuse, are homeless or runaways, have family dysfunction, substance abuse or mental illness issues, are socially isolated, etc. You know who these kids are? They are very often kids from foster care.

If you’re worried about sexual predators taking advantage of vulnerable children, teach your kids about “tricky people” instead of “stranger danger” (the VAST majority of sexual abuse happens from someone the child knows), and then figure out how you can invest in the life of at-risk kids.

Become a mentor. Go through the CASA program to be able to be a child’s voice in court. Get your foster parent license. Volunteer with agencies that support the needs of foster kids by providing clothing or tutoring or making a birthday cake for them. There are a million ways to take the passion or hobby or special skill you have and turn it into something you can do for foster kids who are at risk of sex trafficking or are coming out of sex trafficking.

If “saving our children” is really about making sure nothing bad ever happens to your own kids, then call it what it is. You can hashtag “save my child” and I won’t judge you. But if you genuinely care about “our” children, then a hashtag isn’t going to do a thing. These are real kids with real needs and you could help meet them. You could be the supportive adult who means they don’t feel so isolated. You could be the person they feel safe disclosing their history of sexual abuse to so they can start the healing process. You could provide a home for a homeless child or teach job skills to a teen who feels their body is the only thing of value they have to offer.

If you’re up in arms because LOL Surprise dolls seem to be inappropriately sexualized, great. I agree. They’re gross. If your child is growing up in a loving home where appropriate boundaries are taught and you’re giving them a healthy foundation when it comes to sex education, then if you find that doll in your home, you throw it in the trash. It will do zero damage to your child in the long run. Write an angry letter, refuse to buy more toys from that company, and move on.

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While I can fully agree it’s part of a disturbing trend towards sexualizing kids, what I’m most worried about are kids who are being sexually abused in a home that is not loving and without appropriate boundaries or a foundational knowledge of sex education.

Those are the kids who need some amount of “saving” or protecting. Obviously we can care about more than one thing at a time, but when we’re much more outraged about dolls in lingerie than we are about the kids going to sleep on the street tonight, let’s not make ourselves feel better by claiming we’re out to “save the children.”

If you want to know who those kids were who were rescued in these sex trafficking stings across the country, I’d be willing to bet money that many of them had previous or current involvement with the child welfare system. They found no hope there. No connection there. No way out. And so they were ready to jump at whatever opportunity was offered to them. It’s a tragedy. And it’s often preventable.

You could actually save our children. But you aren’t going to do it with a hashtag.

Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids. Four were adopted (one internationally, three through foster care) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.