When we think about the horrors of sex trafficking and what a sex trafficked victim experiences, we might wonder how someone gets trafficked, and why they aren’t able to get out of the situation. In this blog, we will focus on risk factors of domestic sex trafficking, as that is the focus of our organization.
Also, while Redeeming Love currently only works with women ages 18 and over, many of the risk factors address youth, as the vast majority of domestic sex trafficking occurs when victims are between the ages of 11 and 16. Our organization works with victims who have been able to get out and are in need of a safe place for recovery.
While there are numerous individual circumstances that can cause someone to be trafficked, we’ve found four primary risk factors.
Experiencing child abuse
Children who have been abused are at a higher risk of being sex trafficked because of the impact on their living circumstances and psychological development. In particular, children who have been molested or sexually abused learn to link sex, abuse and love. So, because of their abuse, the act of sex can trigger a feeling of love that confuses reality, even when the sex is being forced on them.
People who have experienced abuse can develop behavioral patterns that draw them to other abusive figures. This is part of what attaches victims to their traffickers and pimps. Outsiders with moderately healthy relationships can look at the pimp/trafficker dynamic and recognize it as abusive, controlling and dangerous. But for victims of abuse, it is harder to both identify the unhealthy behavior and believe that there is something better available to them. They choose to remain in abusive circumstances because they believe their abusers love them and/or because they believe they don’t deserve or can’t find something better.
Childhood abuses carry long into adulthood when they aren’t addressed. That is why, at Redeeming Love, even though we work with survivors who are 18 and older and considered adults legally, we are still working to help them address the traumas and unhealthy patterns that developed in childhood.
Going through the foster system
The foster system, as it stands currently, is a broken system that can perpetuate trafficking. There are many well-meaning adult-figures in the foster system and many foster parents who are saving lives with their care and attention. But given that children who enter the foster system typically do so because they’ve been removed from an unhealthy home environment, and there is instability as children are moved from temporary home to temporary home, these vulnerabilities create prime targets for traffickers. Traffickers are known to recruit adolescents near group homes. And children who run away to escape the foster system and become homeless are also targeted.
Children who run away and become homeless are likely to get picked up by traffickers within 48 hours. Traffickers target homeless children and they can be quickly spotted. Traffickers make promises to victims convincing them to come with them. Traffickers pose as boyfriends or protectors, promising to take care of the victim. These lies can be compelling when wandering alone and without food or shelter. Traffickers may also utilize guerrilla tactics to take victims by force.
Lack of parental involvement and internet protection
That parental involvement is critical in children’s lives should come as no surprise. However, particularly with the prevalence and secrecy of social media, children today are at greater risk of being trafficked even if they come from healthy homes. When parents are less involved and children have more time to themselves, they are more open to persuasion from unseemly influences.
Social media can be a particular danger to persuadable youth. With messaging apps and the ability to portray yourself however you want, young people can be tricked into believing a false persona online, and opt to meet people they don’t know which can lead to them being trafficked.
Recruiters can portray extravagant lifestyles on social media that are not reality. And older men can portray themselves as any age they want to gain the trust of a young person. Throw in messaging capability through basically every social media platform, and suddenly young people can be reached by traffickers wherever they are.
It’s critical that parents take an active role in their children’s lives and are carefully monitoring their online activity. You can learn more here about how parents can protect children online.
How we help
Regardless of how someone gets trafficked, most people begin being trafficked when they are legally minors. And the effects of the abuse can be carried throughout their lives, even if they are lucky enough to get out. Redeeming Love works with women who are over 18 but who are still struggling with the effects of trafficking and are at risk of returning to “the life.” Help us reach more women and provide essential, life-saving services by giving online.