Whenever we picture what a trafficking situation involves, there’s a stigma that it’s done by strangers through kidnapping. That a young girl goes to a foreign country and gets taken. Hollywood and the media certainly give an interesting version of what human trafficking entails. However, these perceptions are untrue. Most cases of human trafficking don’t involve kidnappings and aren’t done by strangers. Traffickers use nefarious tactics that make their crimes untraceable to the ordinary human eye. Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking, and anyone can be a trafficker.
Traffickers get their victims through manipulation. Instead of using violence, they use mind games. In the recruitment phase, traffickers rarely use violence to get a victim. There are a few main recruitment tactics when it comes to trafficking individuals for sexual exploitation or forced labor.
This term is exactly how it sounds. A trafficker will appear as whatever that child or adult needs them to be: a friend, parent, girlfriend/boyfriend, or mentor. “Boyfriend” is how a trafficker gains that person’s trust, by giving them whatever they need. Money, new clothes, constant attention, flattery, promises of a happy life, the list goes on. Traffickers always target people in vulnerable situations. Children in foster care, a woman who just escaped an abusive boyfriend, drug addicts, or homeless. It’s like your vulnerability is an invisible target on your back that abusers and traffickers can find.
An example comes from Stop Modern Day Slavery. An interviewee and survivor, Kimberly Blitz, shared how she met some man when she was 14 (after dealing with personal loss and moving to a new city), and that man eventually became her trafficker. Kimberly shared, “I thought things were great between us until our first fight where he ended up hitting me. I remember thinking how wrong it was but at the same time justifying it. The next day he showed up with flowers, crying about how he never meant to hurt me. And then he said the three words I was craving to hear: ‘I love you.'”
Boyfriend is probably the most common way traffickers recruit their victims. By using psychological and emotional abuse, it makes it seem impossible for their victim to leave, let alone tell their family or law enforcement. By pretending to care or show love, a trafficker gains power over their potential victim, because that person thinks they cannot live or survive without the trafficker.
Traffickers will tell people or post online about some well-paying job, travels, or modeling/acting gigs. Traffickers ensure the advertisement looks legitimate, so there is no doubt surrounding your mind. People who are desperate for money or a job will view the advertisement and think it is legit, only to learn the hard way it was a lie. If it involves travels to another country, that person or persons involved will seize documents and essentially hold you captive, forcing you to do horrendous things.
Such was the case for Jane Doe, in an article shared by Fight The New Drug. This Jane Doe would become another victim of the GirlsDoPorn organization. She was told that she was auditioning for a fitness modeling job. Instead, she was flown out to San Diego, where she was forced to sign a contract, fed drugs and alcohol, and forced to perform for a porn video. She was raped for six hours. Many other women experienced similar situations from GirlsDoPorn. The GirlsDoPorn founder was wanted by the FBI and was caught in Spain back in December. He is currently being charged with “sex trafficking, production of child pornography, sex trafficking of a minor, and conspiracy to launder monetary instruments.” Others involved in the company were caught and charged with sex trafficking. False advertisements are commonly used by traffickers.
This is exactly how it sounds. Many people think human trafficking happens between strangers, but in many cases, traffickers target someone they know personally. According to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, these are the statistics of people brought into trafficking by someone they knew in 2020:
42% were brought into trafficking by a member of their own families. (Sex trafficking)
39% were recruited via an intimate partner or a marriage proposition. (Sex trafficking)
69% were recruited by a potential or current employer. (Forced labor)
15% were recruited into trafficking by a member of their own family. (Forced labor)
5% by an intimate partner or marriage proposition. (Forced labor)
Polaris Project shares several stories (which you can read or watch) of survivors of familial trafficking. It’s easier for traffickers to target someone they know since they already have that individual’s trust and love, which they can manipulate against them. In the story of Sam, he explained the reason he never told anyone of his father trafficking him. “I loved him and I wanted him to be proud of me. I wanted him to love me as unconditionally as I loved him. To get that, it was my job to do what Dad wanted me to do – and not to tell anyone. That was how I would have a father-son relationship.”
Human trafficking doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s not a black-or-white issue. As you can see, it’s very easy to be manipulated by people who claim to have your best interests at heart. It’s important to be aware of these recruitment tactics, so we can know how to recognize if this is happening and prevent it from happening to ourselves and our loved ones.