One of the most important things to understand about sex-trafficking survivors is that none of them wanted to go through this. Sometimes it happened to them because someone promised them food or shelter. Sometimes it’s because they were born into a society where they’re expected to be sexually used and abused. Sometimes it’s as simple or familiar as trusting the wrong boyfriend.
Here are just some of the people who are at high risk for sex trafficking.
As many as 2.8 million children run away each year in the United States. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that in those first two days of being solo, one out of every three of thsoe children are lured into the sex trade.
One out of every three.
Remember: When someone runs away from home, it’s definitely a cry for help. Something at home feels unbearable, and whoever is the first person to promise a better alternative holds all the power, even if what he or she is offering sounds sketchy.
In a lot of places in the world, “tradition” is the excuse used to keep girls and women down. In India, 90% of the girls born to sex workers are expected to be sold into the sex trade, too. It’s their “duty.” In societies like this, the boys are brought up to be pimps and the girls are expected to be their prostitutes. The girls can be as young as nine when they’re first sold, and their moms can be the ones bringing them to greet their first customers.
Immigrants to the United States are super-easy targets for traffickers. When they’re new to America, they often don’t speak English. Or maybe they don’t have a job, they owe money to whoever helped them get here, and they have no legal protection because they’re not officially a citizen (yet). The most tragic part of this setup is that immigrants are often trafficked by people from their home country who steer them the wrong way or promise them an easy ride, and then make them work off their debt by forcing them into the sex trade.
We also have to look carefully at who is doing the trafficking. According to the United Nations, 46% of victims know their recruiters. Here are some of the faces they wear.
The Romeo Pimp is cunning and slick. Once he homes in on his target, he acts like her boyfriend and promises her the world. Romeo tells her she’s beautiful and sexy. A lot of times, he buys her expensive presents like cell phones and lingerie that makes her feel really special. Then he tells her she’s beautiful some more, especially when she puts on lingerie and does a little shimmy. He thinks she’s so hot that he wonders if she’ll do a little shimmy for his friend. It’s just a joke, he says. Or a special occasion. But this is only the beginning. Romeo has big ideas for her and how beautiful and sexy she can be.
The loverboy of Holland is a special breed. Since prostitution is legal in the Netherlands if you’re eighteen or older, the loverboy preys on underage girls. He pretends to be an adoring boyfriend, doting on his girl with gifts and promises. Soon enough, he starts taking her down to a red lights district and telling her this is just something fun they can try, or how it might help to make some money. Sometimes the girls he lures are even forced to work in the windows like sex dolls for sale.
Instead of going to see the pyramids in Egypt or surf the waves of Costa Rica, some people travel to another country to buy sex. They might go somewhere where they know the government ignores sexual abuse, where prostitution is legal, or where there is extreme poverty and police corruption. Brazil, Thailand, and the Caribbean islands are hotspot destinations for this kind of customer. Some sex tourists even blog about how many sex workers they have slept with during their travels, and they acquire a reputation as a sort of travel agent and pimp at the same time.
This is the one who most often makes it into the news. The Guerilla is the guy who lurks in a van or who corners his prey in the public bathroom and uses force to kidnap his victims. A Guerilla will threaten his victim with knives, guns, or the promise that he’s going to kill her whole family if she so much as thinks of calling the police. Then he locks her up in his basement or keeps moving her to different locations so nobody can find her. When the Guerilla is finally captured and his victim is freed, a lot of times there are eerie testimonials from neighbors who say something like I had no idea he had girls in his basement. He was always such a nice, quiet guy.
I encourage anyone interested in learning more about sex trafficking to read Sher’s book Breaking Free, the story of three different girls who were trafficked and came out of the horror with a passion to help other girls escape their fate.