Improving your daughter’s personal value and self-worth is an important step in keeping her from being manipulated and groomed by sex traffickers — whether online or in everyday life — who want vulnerable, pliant girls for diabolical reasons.

“I started telling my daughter she was priceless,” said Bo Quickel, founder of Vigilante Truth, a nonprofit organization seeking to end sex trafficking in the United States. Once you replace that vulnerability with value, young women won’t look to others to know their worth or fall for the tricks of traffickers who want girls for the sex slavery trade, Quickel said.

Quickel spoke Saturday to a group of more than 50 people at Eastside Baptist Church to help raise awareness about sex trafficking. The event, scheduled to be held at Lake Norman Muay Thai, was moved to the church to accommodate the large interest it garnered.

“These horrible things are out there, but you don’t have to be a victim,” said J.T. Smith, a retired law enforcement officer and owner of Lake Norman Muay Thai.

Quickel prefers to use the term “sex slavery” instead of “human trafficking” because when people think of trafficking, they typically believe victims are being smuggled into the United States like in the illegal drug trade.

Ninety percent of girls under the age of 18 who are sex slaves — that’s between 400,000-500,000 people currently — were born in the United States, Quickel said. “This is not a ‘bring somebody across the border’ issue,” he said. “This is a ‘see you at Concord Mills’ issue.”

Quickel said he has run undercover sex trafficking operations in Mooresville numerous times. “It is right here in our neighborhoods,” Quickel said. “Our daughters, and yes, our sons.”

Sex slavery statistics are shocking. Twenty percent of all sex slaves are boys, Quickel said. Thirteen is the average age of a trafficked female, he said, with one female sex slave bringing in $300,000 annually for their trafficker. Traffickers typically have between three and five girls as sex slaves making it a multi-million dollar business, he said. Each sex trafficking victim has 10 customers a day, he said.

He stressed sex trafficking victims are not kidnapped off the street or from stores no matter how many alleged encounters people post about on social media.

“I don’t care what your Facebook says,” Quickel said. “None of that happens. They weren’t being followed by anybody down the aisle. ... They are getting trafficked by people they know.”

These people include older friends at school or online “friends” young people think they know on social media but who turn out to be much older upon meeting, he said.

Contrary to the idea that traffickers look only for poor girls, suburban girls are at risk of being trafficked as well, Quickel said. For the money abusers spend on a victim, a sex slavery customer wants a smart, good-looking, healthy girl who has been manipulated into cooperating, he said.

“Nobody needs to ignore this as if it just simply won’t happen to me or my kid,” Quickel said.

Parents should also monitor their children’s social media accounts and devices, he said. “If you’re not watching your child’s social media, you’re just setting yourself up for heartbreak,” he said.

Parents should also meet their children’s friend’s parents, especially before sleepovers to ensure their homes are filled with furniture, have pictures on the walls and look lived in as opposed to a barren, fly-by-night-style crash pad that can accompany sex slavery, he said.

A self-defense presentation by Lake Norman Muay Thai members followed Quickel’s speech.

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