Starbucks Windy HillWhat are your needs? As I sit in Starbucks this morning looking at the line of people filing in and out of the front door, I think many of them would say they need coffee.

When I was growing up we all knew we needed for our mama to have her coffee in the morning before seeing us or it was bad for everyone. I’m fortunate in that I can take it or leave it. I really view it more as a treat than a need, but others would say I’m crazy.

What are your actual needs? The things that you need to make it through your day… to survive or, as in my mom’s case, for others in your world to survive?

One site I looked at listed the five basic needs as:

  1. Oxygen
  2. Water
  3. Food
  4. Shelter
  5. Sleep

 Another site listed the five basic needs of all people as:

  1. Water
  2. Food
  3. Shelter
  4. Energy
  5. Security

If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you find it is all encompassing of the other lists and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needsthen some. Listed in order of importance are:

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Love/Belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-Actualization

Human Traffickers are students of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

They know exactly what people need to survive and they capitalize on it. They recognize if they can determine someone’s greatest need, they can use it as leverage. They can earn trust by meeting a felt need. It’s a small investment for them and they’re banking on a great return.

Traffickers are notorious for hanging out in bus stations, subway stations, train stations and airports looking for someone who is alone and has nowhere to stay. They offer a safe place to stay. It may be safe for a night or two, before they flip the switch. Then it becomes hell on earth.

They’ll also hang out in late night restaurants, life Waffle House, or a fast food place like McDonalds.  The coffee is cheap in those type of places, therefore, a runaway can usually scrounge enough money to buy a cup. It’s a warm, safe place to hang out when you have nowhere else to go. Traffickers are great at reading people. They’ll surmise the situation fairly quickly and offer to buy the person a meal to build a bridge, get them talking and then offer their help.

Those situations are easy to warn someone about. They’re easy to spot, if you know what to look for around you. But there are other needs besides food and shelter traffickers use to lure people to them. Some of them are offered more subtly.

The need for love/belonging is a strong need in each one of us. If you’re a young person with a difficult home situation or even from a great home but you haven’t found your people at school or in the neighborhood, you’re ripe for a trafficker’s picking.

He may drum up a conversation with you in a shopping mall or at the movies or he may seek you out on social media posing as someone your age. You could build a strong emotional connection online with him before you realize he’s male and 10-30 years older than you. At that point, he has you.

So, how do we fight this? How do we as parents, teachers, coaches, and youth or scout leaders help young people navigate this world they’re growing up in today?

First and foremost, LOVE THEM WELL. Invest in their needs in healthy, appropriate ways so they’re need tank is full. If they are having their needs met in safe and healthy environments, they won’t go looking for them to be met elsewhere.

Talk with them about everything and often. In fact, don’t ever stop talking. Sex, friendships, developmental changes, stress, grades, friendship drama, should all be free topics for conversation. In fact, there shouldn’t be anything they can’t come to you to discuss. If you aren’t willing to talk with them about it, they will find someone who will.

Many parents freak out at the thought of talking with their children about sex. I have three words for you: GET OVER YOURSELF.

Your child needs you to be a parent and go to those hard places in conversation and be open. I speak at youth events and churches about sex frequently. At one event, I had a young man who was about to enter college approach me to thank me for being so open with their group. He said,

You know, you didn’t seem to be uncomfortable or awkward talking about it so it didn’t seem uncomfortable or awkward for us.”

Parents, here me on this, you have to go there. You have to be willing to speak openly and honestly with your children about sex, and not just the mechanics of it, but the emotions tied to it, the reason God intended sex to be saved for marriage and the damage that can come from recklessly entering into a sexual relationship. Talk about the dangers involved in sex outside of marriage. Talk about honoring the opposite sex and honoring your future spouse by the choices you make today. You can do it.

Sex was created by God and everything He created in the Garden, He said was good [Genesis 9:7]. Sex isn’t a bad thing. The perversion of sex is a bad thing. When you present that to your children, you’re equipping them to face the world they live in today. I’ve often said,

Someone is going to steal your child’s innocence. It can be you, in a safe and loving environment or it can be someone else, who is more than willing to do it. “

It’s important for parents and those working with young people today to make themselves aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and strive to address those needs whenever possible. By doing so, you help make those you love a more difficult target for traffickers. No one is 100% safe from this evil. It is not a respecter of persons; however, we can fight it every step of the way.