It is important to understand that the process of inducing a young person into a life of commercial sex is not commonly a swift and forceful act. Although random abductions and subsequent forced sexual servitude do occur, the more pervasive form is that of a slow process of coercion. It is essential to understand how this process looks in order to safeguard our children from falling prey exploitive and inhumane goals of the traffickers living and operating in our communities. If we understand the techniques employed by the traffickers we can better identify and respond to trafficked persons, or those in the midst of being drawn into it, as well as develop effective prevention programs for the protection of our youth. Through study we have been able to uncover the most common methods used by traffickers when targeting our young people.
That methodology can be explained through a three-phase process: scouting, manipulating, and trapping.
The scouting phase can be likened to hunting. The hunter, or trafficker, seeks out their intended target based on the knowledge the trafficker has of that person. Where do the traffickers get that knowledge? The most common method of ‘intelligence gathering’ is through social media . As more and more young people share their likes, dislikes, struggles, accomplishments, wants, and needs through the internet traffickers can lurk in the shadows learning all they need to about our children and waiting for the perfect moment to strike. That moment may be a ‘chance encounter’ at a mall or local teen hangout or an innocent friend request on Facebook or some other social media site. Wherever that encounter may occur one thing is certain, the trafficker is prepared to engage the child in a conversation that is sure to capture that youth’s attention. Traffickers have explained that they are all too experienced at identifying and responding to vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can range from economic, where the child’s family may not have the financial means to supply the child with all the latest fashions and electronic gadgets, or be as routine as low self-esteem or desires for love and affection. It is the latter that most teens experience at some point in their cycle of growth and development, but it is also a state in which the traffickers are well versed in how to exploit. Once they are able to get the attention of the teen, it is onto the second phase, manipulation.
During the manipulation phase, the trafficker really brings their “A-game” so to speak. If it is love and attention that the teen desires, then that is exactly what the trafficker is going to provide. The truth is traffickers have all the time in the world; they don’t have ‘normal’ jobs that they need to attend to nor do they hold fast to other responsibilities that most productive members of society deal with on a daily basis. Therefore, they can focus all of their time manipulating vulnerable, and I dare say ignorant, teens into believing that they not only care about them and their dreams, but that they ‘accept’ them for who they are. It is the pitch of “come as you are” that is so attractive to teens that are already stressed in a world with high expectations. The traffickers offer an oasis of relief with an endless supply of drugs, alcohol, and, in a confusing twist, perceived love and approval. As the teen starts to let their guard down and begin to ‘trust’ the trafficker, the manipulation begins to focus on isolation from parents, family, friends, and church and starts with the desensitization of morals and respect for human sexuality. Once the victim is ‘ready’ the trafficker then ‘turns them out’ after which they are trapped, becoming victims both to those looking to make a profit of their exploitation and those who demand the sexual services of our innocent youth.
The third and final phase is the trapping phase in which the child now becomes enslaved in the life created for them by the trafficker. There are many methods by which the traffickers can employ to trap them; some of these may include physical violence, sleep or food deprivation, blackmail, or other threats such as summonsing law enforcement to arrest the victim if they do not comply with the traffickers’ demands . However the promises of love, although now twisted similar to that of a domestic violence scenario, still exist. Victims feeling that they have no other alternative because of societal views and judgments , threats and fears of the trafficker, or trafficking induced addictions such as drugs and alcohol become trap in a cycle of victimization where the crime outlook is a life expectancy of seven years unless effective intervention occurs.