Sex trafficking is defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” It involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to make an adult engage in commercial sex acts. However, any commercial sexual activity with a minor, even without force, fraud, or coercion, is considered trafficking. Although men and boys are vulnerable to sex trafficking as well, the majority of victims are women and girls.
There’s no one type of person more vulnerable than another when it comes to human trafficking. Victims come from all ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and economic brackets. These victims are trapped and controlled in various ways, including violence, threats, false promises, isolation, shaming, and debt.
There are some factors that make someone more likely to be a victim of trafficking.
- Have an unstable living situation
- Have previously experienced other forms of violence such as sexual abuse or domestic violence
- Have run away or are involved in the juvenile justice or child welfare system
- Are undocumented immigrants
- Are facing poverty or economic need
- Have a caregiver or family member who has a substance use issue
- Are addicted to drugs or alcohol
It isn’t always easy to tell who might be a victim of sex trafficking, but there are some signs to watch for.
- Want to stop participating in commercial sex but feel scared or unable to leave the situation.
- Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that someone pressured them into it.
- Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.
- Are children who live with or are dependent on a family member with a substance use problem or who is abusive to them.
- Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry.
- Work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business.
- Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications.
According to the National Sex Trafficking Hotline, in 2021 there were 93 signals received through the hotline in Delaware. 43 of those signals came from victims or survivors of human trafficking. In Maryland in 2021, there were 751 signals received through the hotline, and 279 of those signals were from victims or survivors of trafficking. Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received more than 22,190 reports of sex trafficking in the United States, according to The White House. Reports of child sex trafficking jumped 846% between 2010 and 2015. Since 2000, 55% of sex trafficking victims were recruited online, typically through chat rooms, dating apps, social media, messaging apps, or advertisements.
Traffickers can also lure victims through job offers. Be wary of job offers that seem too good to be true. This could be a typically lower-paying job that’s offered with a much higher salary than is normal, or a potential employer asking personal questions that don’t relate to the job offer. False job offers may also ask you to lie about your age, keep the job a secret, or ask you to pay an exorbitant fee for uniforms or other supposed business expenses. They may try to lure you to an out-of-the-way location for an interview.
Traffickers also lure their victims in with false love. These individuals may seek to control others through mental, emotional, or financial support to build trust with their victim.
- Demands that you tell them where you are at all times.
- Makes you ask for permission to leave the home or to socialize with others.
- Limits your communication with friends, family, and loved ones.
- Threatens to hurt you or your loved ones if you don’t do what they say.
- Holds on to your identification cards, other personal documents, or money.
- Makes you feel unsafe to be around them.
- Provides you with financial support that requires you to ask for money when you need it.
- Makes you work at a job where you do not receive your own paycheck.
- Forces you to perform sex acts for them or others for money or in exchange for other items of value, like drugs.
Social media has become an easy way to target victims, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself online. Children are often vulnerable targets, whether through social media or apps downloaded to their devices. According to the Department of Homeland Security, some tips that you should make your child aware of to stay safe online include:
- Don’t share personal information (where you live, work, go to school, or details about your personal life).
- Set your profile to private so only your friends in real life can get access.
- Never accept a friend request from someone you don’t know in real life.
- Don’t share photos with anyone that you wouldn’t be comfortable with your parents, guardians, or friends seeing.
- If you do share a photo and someone uses it to threaten or blackmail you, you have options. Talk to a trusted adult about how to protect yourself or get help.
- If you plan to meet someone you met online in person, it should be in a public setting, like a restaurant or coffee shop, and let a trusted friend know who, where, and when you are meeting.
- Do your research on a job offer that seems too good to be true by reading reviews on company rating websites or reaching out to current or past employees to validate information about the job.
- If someone isn’t who they seem to be, or you think you are being lured into a potentially exploitative situation, tell a trusted adult. Reporting the person could help stop them from potentially exploiting other people.
- Trust your instincts! If something feels wrong about a conversation you are having with someone online, stop the conversation and block the profile.
If you believe that you or someone you know might be a victim of trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Research Center at 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711). You can also text 233733 to reach out for help for yourself or others.