Maria* was 13 years old when she first got Instagram on her cellphone. She had her parent’s permission because Instagram is rated as appropriate for “Ages 12+.”
She loved sharing photos as well as “liking” and commenting on her friend’s images. She mostly posted about being in Girl Scouts, babysitting her younger brother, and going to the lake with her friends.
That’s when strange men started reaching out to her in direct messages.
She mostly ignored them. But, one day, a direct message came in from someone who looked young and cute in his profile picture and who he said he went to the school in the neighboring town. Maria accepted his direct message request and the two began DMing back and forth every day.
He was interested in learning everything about her, which was flattering, and he soon asked her to be his “girlfriend.” Even though she’d never met him in real life, she agreed because he made her feel loved.
It was shortly after that when he started soliciting her to send him sexually explicit images. At first Maria said no, but he kept asking and began making her feel guilty for saying no. Eventually she relented and sent him some sexually explicit images of herself.
And that day changed everything.
Instagram, the social media app that Maria had been so excited to use and share with her friends, became her virtual prison!
You see, this “young and cute boy” to whom Maria had sent her sexually explicit images was not a boy at all. He was an adult man who promptly used these graphic photos to blackmail Maria. He threatened to send Maria’s sexually explicit photos to her parents and to all her classmates if she didn’t have sex with him and then with others. Maria felt trapped. Before she knew it she was a victim of sex trafficking and was being sold to one stranger after another.
This went on for three months, while she was still living in her parent’s home, until she finally gathered the courage to tell someone and get help.
How much is a childhood free from sex trafficking and pornography worth to you and your family? We know you care deeply about girls like Maria. No child should ever go through that trauma.
And because we know that you care, we are asking you to link arms with us to prevent this kind of exploitation from befalling the countless other girls and boys out there who are being targeted, groomed, and abused on social media at this very moment.
Right now, law enforcement only has the capacity to rescue a few children at a time and safe houses have a limited number of beds to help those children recover. Meanwhile exploiters have nearly limitless access to children through social media apps, and therefore abuse more girls like Maria than we’ll ever know.
But the National Center on Sexual Exploitation has an aggressive strategy to fight this scourge.
Our strategy is to prevent the abuse of girls like Maria in the first place by demanding and getting critical changes to corporate policies and practices to favor safety above mere profits. We have a long history of success with efforts like these thanks to your generous support, but the rapid advance of technology means our efforts and resources need to increase in kind.
This is your invitation to prevent the abuse of another little girl who’s just logging into Instagram for the first time today.
A generous donor recently pledged to give $3 million to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation in order to increase our impact on changing culture through corporate and legal policies and advocacy, equipping the public to protect their own families and communities, and leading the movement of diverse NGOs and experts.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is a challenge.
This major donor wants to know if YOU support us and see our vision for a world free from pornography, child abuse, sex trafficking, and all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse.
This is your chance to help make a million dollar mark for human dignity.
Are you with us?
*Name changed to protect the innocent