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Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. There’s no better time to educate yourself on the vital issue of human trafficking, especially child sex trafficking. Being well-versed on how to identify, prevent, and report these crimes can help save lives. For more information about the signs and risks, read part one here.


Knowing the differences between healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships is a key aspect to preventing trafficking situations. It’s so important to talk often to young people about how to tell the difference so they can build healthy relationships and stay safer.

Let’s start with an example:

Healthy relationship: based on respect, honesty, trust, communication, compromise, commitment, healthy boundaries and a mutual building of each other’s self-confidence. 

Unhealthy relationship: one partner forces the other partner to sacrifice friendships, family, school, personal goals or even their emotional well-being while in the relationship. These relationships can be physically, emotionally and mentally abusive. 

A21 describes the “Loverboy method of trafficking,” also known as the “Romeo method of recruitment,” as what appears at first to be a healthy relationship. Often (but not always) it involves an older man pretending to be a loving boyfriend. However, over time, it turns into an unhealthy relationship that leads to sex trafficking. Traffickers gain trust and then exploit the victim by luring them into trafficking under the pretenses of a romantic relationship through grooming and abuse. The process of recruitment can happen quickly or take place over an extended period of time. It is important to note that even though the term "loverboy" is used, traffickers are not only males just as victims are not only females. 

Knowing a few relationship safeguards can help prevent a potential trafficking situation.

1.      It’s important to create a safety network with the people in your life outside of your relationship. Maintain this safety network by sharing about your relationship…this is your “circle of trust.”

2.      Always keep important phone numbers with you, especially for people you’d want to contact if you were in trouble.  

3.      Establish consent boundaries in your relationship, allowing you to use assertive communication to make personal decisions. 

Online Relationships

While it’s tempting to just tell kids not to talk to strangers online, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It’s not uncommon for an abuser to be a trusted adult in the child’s life with whom they have an online relationship. Even when an abuser is a stranger, children may not see them that way. Online safety is vital to protecting children from those who seek to exploit them online.

It’s important to speak to children and teens about online safety early and often. It’s never too early to start having these conversations. Children are becoming tech-savvy at an increasingly earlier age with even young children using internet enabled devices for schoolwork, entertainment and staying connected to friends and family.

A lot of the same things that keep children safe offline will protect them while they’re online. The most important factor in prevention is making sure your children are connected to caring adults who can have open conversations with them about things like good boundaries, consent and self-esteem.

If you suspect the online sexual exploitation of a child or child sex trafficking, even if you’re not sure, report it to the CyberTipline. NCMEC’s CyberTipline is a centralized reporting system for online exploitation of children. These reports provide NCMEC with an opportunity to support law enforcement in building child sex trafficking investigations, intervene in exploitation and help connect survivors to services.

To make a CyberTipline Report, visit or call NCMEC’s 24/7 toll-free hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.

A21 is one of the largest organizations in the world that is solely fighting human trafficking. A21 operates at a local, domestic, and international level to respond to trafficking that is already taking place and actively works on the frontlines of prevention. 

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children serves as a national clearinghouse for reports relating to child sex trafficking and assists law enforcement, first responders, and victim specialists relating to the identification, location, and recovery of child sex trafficking victims.  

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