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Human sex trafficking is the fastest-growing enterprise in the world making an estimated $99 billion a year. It occurs in a range of venues including hotels and motels, at fake massage businesses, via online ads and escort services, in residential brothels, on the streets and at truck stops.
Human sex traffickers use threats, lies, fraud and other forms of coercion to compel individuals to participate in commercial sex acts against their will. These victims are often isolated, intimidated, sold into bondage and prone to physical and sexual assault by their traffickers. Physical force, drugs, emotional tactics and financial methods are all used to control their victims. Most live under constant mental and physical threats and many will suffer severe emotional trauma.
What do traffickers look like?
Perpetrators (traffickers, johns, pimps) don’t fit any single stereotype. They can be U.S. citizens or foreign nationals, male or female, adult or minor, and of every social, ethnic and racial group. Some victims are even forced into recruiting new victims.
Who is at risk of sexual exploitation?
According to reports, U.S. children in the foster care system are highly likely to be preyed on and become victims of child sex trafficking. Homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental or physical disability or lack of legal immigration status are all common reasons that individuals become vulnerable to human sex trafficking.
Although no one is exempt from the deception and manipulation tactics used by traffickers, pre-teen girls are most susceptible.
Runaways are also targets for recruiters. A young person is likely to be sold for commercial sexual exploitation after running away from home. In 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that one in six endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims. Runaways are picked up by traffickers who promise them shelter, food, clothing and employment.
Lies, feigned affection, deception, threats, and violence are all tactics used by human sex traffickers when recruiting new victims for sexual exploitation. Recruiters pose as friendly people as they attempt to befriend vulnerable looking girls and boys at malls, arcades, parks, movie theatres and frightfully even schools.
Many times recruiters will form a strong bond with young girls promising a lifestyle they have never experienced. They will claim to love the victim and manipulate them into thinking sex acts are for their future together.
Some sex trafficking victims have not had a positive male role model in their life and the traffickers use this to their advantage. They force the victims to refer to them as “daddy,” and further manipulate their mental state.
Other tactics used by human sex traffickers are violence and gang rape to force victims to do what is asked of them. Additionally, they may drug their victims in order to continue having control.
Human sex trafficking warning signs
Human sex traffickers are able to keep their victims in the web of exploitation simply because sex trafficking can be hard to pinpoint. It is important to understand the growing tragedy of sex trafficking and to have an idea on how to spot potential red flags and indicators to be able to help victims who are caught up in this crime and find the assistance they very much need.
Warning signs that someone is a victim of human sex trafficking include but are not limited to:
- Signs of physical abuse including burns, bruises or cuts
- Less appropriately dressed than before
- Sexualized behavior
- Overly tired
- Lacks healthcare
- Withdrawn, depressed or checked out
- Brags about making lots of money
- New tattoo (pimps use tattoos as a way to brand victims)
- Older friends with a different lifestyle
- Appears malnourished
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his or her money
- Loss of sense of time
- Inability to clarify where he or she is staying
- Avoids eye contact
- Is fearful, anxious, tense, or nervous
- They don’t have any type of identification (traffickers will often take the victims birth certificates, passports, and driver’s licenses)
Not all victims believe they are a victim
There are instances where victims don’t want help. You may have recognized a few human sex trafficking warning signs but the victim is not aware or understands that he or she is being exploited. Many times, they are involved in an unhealthy relationship with their traffickers involving deep levels of psychological conditioning based on either fear or misplaced feelings of love.
In other cases, the victims feel they are in debt to their traffickers because they have provided them with shelter and food.
Feeling ashamed and helpless may also be reasons why a victim turns away help. They don’t want to talk about what they have been through or are going through. They may also fear what will happen to their families if they discuss the truth due to previous threats from their traffickers.
Other factors that cause victims to be reluctant to, report or seek help because they:
- Don’t know who to trust due to the unfamiliar surroundings
- Don’t know help is available, how to access it or where to go for it
- Are unfamiliar with the cultures and language of the country they are being held in
- Fear law enforcement
- Are addicted to drugs and alcohol
Reach out for support and resources
If you are a victim of human sex trafficking or have suspicions of human sex trafficking occurring in your community, we suggest you call the Polaris Project. They are a non-profit organization with a team of professionals that guide victims and survivors of human trafficking.
You may also contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 if you are a victim or suspect human trafficking is happening in your community. They are trained professionals who respond to victims with assistance including shelter, security, food, medical treatment, clothing and other assistance.
How The Carlson Law Firm can help
If you are a victim of human sex trafficking or are aware of a situation involving sexual exploitation, please contact our human sex trafficking lawyers immediately. Our compassionate human sex trafficking lawyers can help victims obtain the needed help to recover from the tragedy, assist in rebuilding their lives and navigate the legal system. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Remember we will keep your information confidential. Contact us today. We care, we can help.