Unveiling the Hidden Dangers of Social Media Predators and What Businesses Can do to Help Stop Child Sex Trafficking

March 7, 2024
A child uses social media on a cell phone and sex traffickers can manipulate them.

Warning: This story contains upsetting details about sex abuse and trafficking of children.

With the rise of social media platforms, the online world has presented challenges for online safety, particularly when predators seek to exploit vulnerable people, including children. The recent case of two girls, ages 11 and 15, from rural Oregon illustrates the dangerous role that social media can play in child sex trafficking.  

The two young girls were allegedly lured by a man who went by “Sleez” on Instagram. Charging papers claim that he communicated with the girls on Instagram and Snapchat and convinced them to run away with him. In January 2024 he allegedly drove to Pendleton, Oregon to pick up the girls and take them to his apartment in Federal Way, Washington, where they were sexually assaulted. The girls were then forced to attempt commercial sexual exploitation on Aurora Avenue North in Seattle. When the girls were too afraid to get into any cars, they were abandoned on the side of the road in Seattle.  

Later, the Bellevue Police Department was contacted by police in Oregon who were able to see that one of the girl’s cell phones pinged at a private residence in Bellevue. Police went to the home, and they were able to recover both girls and reunite them with their parents in Oregon. In February 2024, Bellevue police arrested the man who called himself “Sleez” on social media. Since then, BEST was asked to comment on this incident, which has been in the news in both Washington and Oregon.  

This case underscores the inherent risks of social media, and the dangers children are exposed to should an adult try to exploit them. Manipulation tactics are a key tool for online predators. Through carefully crafted messages and false promises, online predators are often able to gain the trust of victims and convince them to engage in risky behavior. In the case of the two girls from rural Oregon, “Sleez” allegedly painted a picture of a glamourous trip to Seattle. But once the girls arrived in the Puget Sound area, the promised adventure took a sinister turn, and the repercussions of the traumatic events that followed can be long-lasting.

This case is one of many examples that began on social media but lead to the sexual abuse and exploitation of children in real life. The prevalence of online grooming of children with the intention to exploit them was highlighted in a YouTube video. It shows what happened when a 37-year-old mother who works at a technology company that uses artificial intelligence to track the exploitation of children set out to expose online dangers when she posed as 11-year-old and 15-year-old on social media.  

The video shows that the online landscape is increasingly dangerous for children, and it is crucial for children and parents alike to be vigilant and informed. Educating children about the risks of engaging with strangers online, monitoring their online activity, and fostering open communication are all vital steps in safeguarding children against online predators. By being proactive and aware, individuals can reduce the likelihood of falling victim to predatory schemes.

In the wake of this recent incident in the Seattle area, legal actions are now being taken against the accused exploiter. Seeking justice for human trafficking victims is essential not only to hold perpetrators accountable but also to send a message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Technology companies such as the one featured in the YouTube video can report incidents of online exploitation and work together with the criminal justice system. But what can other businesses do to help stop the commercial sexual exploitation of children?

In this case, the two girls from rural Oregon were forced to attempt commercial sexual exploitation on the street. Along Aurora Avenue North there are many hotels, restaurants, and retail shops where employees can witness the signs of human trafficking activity. Training employees who work in these and other businesses can help victims get the assistance they need. When employees are trained to recognize the indicators of human trafficking, it can help stop the exploitation of children.