Human trafficking happens all over, in every community – even your own. Children are especially vulnerable. In order to protect the children within your community, you have to understand the way traffickers work.
Although the abductions that we typically think about do happen on occasion (think the white van and baby snatching), they are not the most common way of being trafficked.
Traffickers make their job easy by capturing victims with a grooming process.
What are the stages of grooming?
Stage 1: Targeting
Traffickers meet the victim. This can be online or in person. In person, the trafficker may just know this person (family member, etc.) Traffickers are increasingly meeting children online. They meet on online games, social media, homework sites – anywhere they know children will be. They also identify vulnerabilities.
A new friend, hangout out with new people, etc
Stage 2: Gaining trust
They gain trust of both the victim and the community around the victim such as parents, teachers, and other supportive adults. Online, they spend time with the child. They get to know them. They play games together or casually chat for weeks/months.
Spending more time with new people, spending more time on devices
Stage 3: Filling a need
Image: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
The trafficker fills a need to make the victim dependent on them.
Homeless youth are most vulnerable for trafficking as a means to survive.
Next are youth in the foster care. They seek long lasting relationships and bonds.
LGBTQ are at risk because they seek friends and acceptance.
Any child can become a victim of human trafficking.
Major events can leave children vulnerable including abuse, a big move, parental divorce, feeling insecure, mental illness, etc.
A trafficker will gladly meet any need if the child is vulnerable.
New gifts, talking about a new friend, bragging about having new things or money, new living situations, etc.
Stage 4: Isolation
The trafficker will begin to withdraw the victim from their support groups. They will demand more time and isolate victims from friends. If there is trouble within the parent/child relationship, they will work to exploit that. “Your parents don’t get you - I do.”
Signs: Depression/mental illness, always having to be somewhere, excessive time on devices, lashing out at friends/family, etc.
Stage 5: Desensitization/abuse
The trafficker may introduce drugs, alcohol, and/or pornography at this point. They set up the culture they expect for the victim. They may demand favors in return for the gifts given to them. The trafficker involves the victim in illegal activities such as shoplifting or underage drinking. They may take sexual videos/images. Anything they can use as manipulation in the last stage.
Signs: Drug abuse, alcohol use, lack of sleep, bruises, inappropriate conduct, secretive, etc.
Stage 6: Maintain control
The trafficker maintains control by threats, violence, and other psychological manipulation.
If the need was strong enough, such as food or shelter, the trafficker only has to threaten taking that away.
If the victim did get involved with illegal activities, they will threaten to tell their parents/authorities.
They can blackmail victims with video/images of them (also known as sextortion).
Signs: Major changes in demeanor, mental illness, fearfulness, rage towards others, severe withdrawal, fear of law enforcement, etc.