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2 U.S. Department of State. 2016 Trafficking In Persons Report. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf Office Of The Under Secretary for Civilian Security, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State Publication, 2016. 390 (accessed Sept-Oct 2016)
3 Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development Office of International Justice and Peace . "Background on Human Trafficking January 2014 ." 2014. (accessed Oct 2016).
4 The Huffington Post. The Disturbing Reality of Human Trafficking and Children. Dec 18, 2015. (accessed Oct-Nov 2016).
5 Shared Hope International. "Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Child Sex Slavery in Broward and Dade Counties, Florida." 2009. (accessed Oct 2016).
6 Congressional Research Service. Sex Trafficking of Children in the United States: Overview and Issues for Congress . 2015. 43 (accessed Sept-Oct 2016).
7 Polaris. Polaris Blog. https://polarisproject.org/blog/2016/01/05/average-age-entry-myth (accessed Sept-Oct 2016).
8 Shared Hope International. What is Sex Trafficking? (accessed Sept-Oct 2016).
9 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. FACT SHEET: CERTIFICATION FOR ADULT VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING. (accessed Oct-Nov 2016).
10 National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC). Sex Trafficking. (accessed Oct 2016).
11 VentureBeat. How traffickers use social media to lure vulnerable teenagers into sex work. 2015. (accessed Nov/Dec 2016).
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13 Sowers Education Group. Pimp Facts 101. (accessed Oct 2016).
14 Eminism.org. Gangs and sex trafficking: How the movement against “modern day slavery” targets descendants of slavery as its primary perpetrators. July 16, 2012. (accessed Nov/Dec 2016).
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16 Lehnardt, Karin. 55 Little Known Facts about Human Trafficking. Sept 20, 2016. (accessed Feb 2017).
17 Relationship Free. Understaning trauma bonding. (accessed 2016-2017).
18 Castillo, Adriana Hauser and Mariano. CNN. Aug 26, 2013. (accessed Feb 2017).
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20 A21 Campaign. Human Trafficking. 2017. (accessed Feb 2017).
\’prädekt\ Something that is marketed or sold as an article of commerce.
Victims of human trafficking can be any age, gender, race, or immigration status; they live in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. 1 According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, particularly vulnerable populations within the United States include: children in the welfare and juvenile justice systems; runaway and homeless youth (commonly referred to as “throwaways”); American Indian and Alaskan Natives; those with limited English proficiency; those with disabilities; and those within the LGBTI community. 2 Like many other crimes, this crime does not discriminate; regardless of one’s ethnic background, socio-economic status, education, or citizenship, traffickers seek out the vulnerable within our society and use that vulnerability as a way to exploit victims for their own financial gain. Once under the trafficker’s control, they are often forced to provide commercial sex acts against their will in both legitimate businesses and underground markets. While some are kept behind locked doors in brothels and factories, others are hidden in plain sight, making it important to be able to identify the signs of a victim in need.
According to statistics, of the 17,500 people being trafficked into the U.S. each year, approximately 80% are women and children, some as young as 5 or 6 years old. 3,4 Of that amount, 70% becomes a part of the commercial sex industry. This does not include the estimated 100,000-300,000 American Children that are at risk of being trafficked within our own borders every year. 5 While it’s been widely accepted that the average age of those entering into prostitution are between the ages of 12 and 14, 6 a study done by Polaris in May of 2015 questioned this statistic, prompting their own analysis. According to data they collected from 123 survivors that volunteered to share their age when first entering into the commercial sex industry, 44% estimated they were 17 years of age or younger with the average age of entry being 19 years old. 7 However, according to Shared Hope International, the common age of a child entering into sex trafficking is between the ages of 14 and 16. 8 It is not surprising that each source has a different age of onset for children entering into prostitution. Because there is not a nationwide system in place to actively track victims, there is no irrefutable way of determining an accurate age of those entering into the commercial sex trade. Nevertheless, one thing remains certain, minors 17 years of age and younger make up a considerable number of those being exploited by the commercial sex industry.
Although minors are the most vulnerable, they are not the only victims exploited within the commercial sex trade. Adults 18 years of age or older who are made to participate in commercial sex acts through force, fraud, or coercion, are also considered to be victims of sex trafficking. 9 Similar to minors who are exploited, adults can fall prey to traffickers by being kidnapped, lured away from their homes, or by being deceived into believing they have a romantic relationship with their trafficker. Although both adults and minor victims of sex trafficking experience similar aspects of victimization, there are also differences. One of the most obvious of these differences is age. In the case of a minor, the use of force fraud, or coercion does not need to be proven for them to be considered a victim of sex trafficking. 10 Due to their age, they are more vulnerable to the type of manipulation traffickers use to exploit their victims. Whereas adult victims, who are looking to fill missing aspects of their lives are equally vulnerable, children lack the ability to fully comprehend or the notice the signs leading to victimization. This makes them more susceptible to the dangers awaiting them at the hands of a trafficker.
The advent of the Internet has provided traffickers with the ability to reach victims on a global scale. Gone are the days when they were confined to one geographical location. Now victimization is as close as one click away. Traffickers have the ability to groom prospective victims with little or no risk to themselves. Popular social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Kik enable traffickers to hunt their prey while concealing their identity. 11 This anonymity aids in their ability to form relationships of trust with prospective victims. Once trust is established, victims are then lured away by the trafficker, and can later be exploited within the commercial sex industry. The use of online sexual exploitation has made it mandatory for law enforcement to not only be familiar with the various social media platforms, but to also know how to navigate through them.
Even through the Internet is quickly becoming the method of choice for many traffickers, it is not their only means of obtaining victims. They have also been known to scour neighborhoods, local high schools and prowl around after school programs looking for vulnerable victims that are easy to exploit. 4,8 Perhaps one of the most disturbing ways of luring victims into this criminal enterprise, is through the use of underage girls already trapped within the industry. Broken down victims, already under the trafficker’s control, are tasked with the responsibility of recruiting other girls into the industry. They do this by establishing a “friendship” with the prospective victim and gaining their trust. Once trust is established and the bond of friendship created, victims are deceived into believing they are going to work for a legitimate business. Once the meeting with this “employer” takes place, victims quickly realize the promised job doesn’t exist, and they are instead cast into an unforeseen nightmare. 12
After a victim falls prey to this deception, they are completely under the trafficker’s control. Sex traffickers, also knows as pimps, use a variety of different methods to ensnare their victims. Pimps are generally labeled under three main categories-Gorilla Pimps, Romeo Pimps, and “CEO” Pimps. Although all exploit their victims, the techniques they use to gain control are slightly different. Perhaps the most aggressive is the Gorilla Pimp. 13,14 Gorilla Pimps use severe violence, forced drug usage, and fear as their primary means of control. They have been known to kidnap, beat, rape, and blackmail their victims into submission. Gorilla Pimps have a tendency to target teenagers at parties, shopping malls, on social media websites, or anywhere else potential victims are lacking responsible adult supervision. Once under their control, victims are usually taken out of the area and trafficked somewhere away from home.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Romeo Pimps. Romeo Pimps use charm, flattery, gifts, and romance as a means of attracting potential victims. 13 They have been known to use psychological control and manipulation to establish a “relationship” with their victim. 14 These perpetrators seek out young, naive girls looking for love or acceptance, runaways, or those with other vulnerabilities that make them more susceptible to those willing to exploit them. Once under their control and fully ensconced in the relationship, the Romeo Pimp will urge the victim to solicit sex for money in order to help cover “living expenses.” Similar to Gorilla Pimps, once a girl is under their control, Romeo Pimps will not hesitate to use violence to achieve the compliance of their victims. Romeo pimps target their victims through social media websites; however, in order to get the interaction with the victim they often need to establish a relationship, they also visit schools, shopping malls, and anywhere else vulnerable teens can be found.
Although CEO Pimps are more common in other countries, they still exist in the United States on a smaller scale. These pimps promise employment where none exists. 13 CEO Pimps sell the dream of a job that is desperately needed or wanted by the victims. They target aspiring models, entertainers, or those in dire financial need. If a victim is traveling from overseas or across borders for work, the trafficker will confiscate all identifying information the victim has. Once the victim reaches their destination, they are told they must work off a constantly increasing debt before they can obtain their freedom. Among other things, these traffickers use threats of deportation as a means of controlling their victims. Victims that fall prey to CEO Pimps often find themselves locked into domestic servitude and/or sex trafficking with seemingly no way of escape.
Although pimps use different methods to initially gain control of their victims, the means by which they keep control is the same. Victims are controlled through psychological manipulation, intimidation, threats, control, isolation and addiction. 13 Many sex trafficking victims are forced to watch pornography as a method of training for the various sex acts and situations that buyers’ prefer. In fact, 80% of survivors report that their customers showed them pornography to illustrate the kind of sex acts they wanted performed. 15 Unfortunately, a victim’s interaction with pornography goes beyond the “training” they receive. Victims, themselves, are forced into the world of pornography through illicit photos taken by their traffickers. These photos are then uploaded to various websites as a means of advertising for the victim’s “services.”
Victims begin to believe, almost immediately, that there is no escape; that they have no way out. Not only are they threatened, but to establish further control, the trafficker threatens their loved ones as well. They are subjected to starvation, confinement, and shame. Victims are often beaten, raped, yelled at, and disrespected until all that remains is a shell of a person they once were. Often forced into addiction, victims look to their traffickers to provide the drugs their bodies suddenly need. 16 Over time, a new bond between the trafficker and the victim is formed-the trauma bond.
A trauma bond is the formation of an emotional attachment that a victim has to their trafficker, as the result of a cycle of abuse. Trauma bonding is used to trap a person through the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and/or sexual psychology. 17 It occurs when the victim feels emotionally and physically dependent on the trafficker-when the victim feels the trafficker is all powerful and in complete control of their life. The longer the cycle of abuse is allowed to continue, the stronger the bond. The longer a victim stays, the harder it is for them to seek a means of escape. Once a trauma bond has been established, victims will make excuses for their trafficker and deny any abuse is taking place. Victims believe they can’t survive on their own; they feel empty and alone. Suffering from low self-esteem and low self-worth, they believe no one else will want them. It’s this bond that protects the trafficker while he’s exploiting the victim.
Once girls enter into the commercial sex industry, their average life expectancy is seven years. 18 The price they pay is extensive and the risks are high. 18 Aside from addiction, other physical risks include the contraction of STD’s, sterility, miscarriages, forced abortions, vaginal bleeding, and anal trauma. However, there is also a high prevalence of psychological effects including clinical depression, personality and dissociate disorders, suicidal tendencies, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Due to this factors, not all victims survive the years of abuse and exploitation. It is estimated that approximately 30,000 victims of sex trafficking die each year from abuse, disease, torture, and neglect. 19 What’s even more discouraging is only 1-2% of victims are ever rescued. 20
At FIGHT, we know that awareness is key to rescuing victims. We know the ability to recognize the signs of a victim in need is crucial, and that educating the public about the existence of this atrocity is imperative. We want to increase the percentage of victims that are getting rescued. We want to draw the victims out of the shadows and bring them into safety, where they can heal and restore their lives. The time has come for us to unite together, to take a stand, and be a voice for the voiceless.