What is now the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world, human trafficking is a vicious circle… victims who enter this dark and violent underworld find it dangerous and nearly impossible to escape. That's because it's big business. Human (labor and sex) trafficking generates over $32 billion globally each year. And those who profit from it will do virtually anything to keep their money stream flowing.
To better understand how the traffick circle works, it's important to first meet the key players in the circle:
1) RECRUITERS: Recruiters can be ANYBODY — a ‘boyfriend', a neighbor, a friendly person (male or female) a runaway may meet on the street or even a family member. Recruiters gain the trust of or even blackmail potential victims to then sell them into labor or sex. Recruiters and traffickers can actually be the same person.
2) TRAFFICKERS: A trafficker is anyone who is in control of a victim and benefits financially from labor or sex into which the victim is sold. A trafficker (a.k.a. “pimp”) controls victims often through the use of violent abuse, threats and lies. Traffickers employ all sorts of terrible tactics to control their victims. In many cases, traffickers handle their own recruiting.
3) VICTIMS: Could be anyone! Once a victim enters the world of trafficking, they find it virtually impossible to escape on their own. Victims are used for labor or for sex and it is estimated that over 1 million children are victims of trafficking each year. Children involved in sex trafficking become victims at young ages: the average entry age for girls is 12 to 14; for boys, it's ages 11 to 13.
4) CONSUMERS: commonly referred to as “johns” in sex trafficking, these are the people who purchase the goods/services offered via the trafficker and provided by the victim. In many cases, these consumers are unaware of the victims' situations and don't think of them as being imprisoned or suffering.
Part I of this blog series focuses on recruiters and traffickers… stay tuned for Parts II and III to learn more about consumers and the victims themselves.
How do Recruiters “recruit” victims?
- A recruiter knows a teen, either through dating them or even meeting them online. The recruiter talks the potential victim into sending naked pictures, but promises the pictures won't be shared. Once the photos are in the recruiter's hands, the recruiter threatens to share the photos online or with family and friends if the potential victim doesn't take things a step further. At that point, the victim may be cohersed into having sex (which is, of course, recorded); to which the recruiter/trafficker threatens to release that video if the victim doesn't continue following the recruiter's orders. The victim is then handed over to the trafficker and sex slavery begins.
- A ‘kind' person will befriend a runaway, buy them food or offer them a place to stay. Their relationship remains friendly for a few days until the victim is abused/raped and is then sold into the world of slavery. One-third of all runaways are approached by a trafficker within 48-hours.
- A student (either from the U.S. or another country) moves in with relatives or friends of the family so they can study at a special school far away from their home. They are then forced into labor or sex as a condition of going to that school and mount an ever-growing debt to their traffickers that they are unable to repay. Coercion and threats are often used to keep the victims from getting help from their families.
- A mother addicted to drugs mounts a huge debt to her dealer and sells her child to the dealer for sex. The child continues to be sold so the mother's drug habit can continue.
Other methods traffickers use to ensnare victims can include:
- Internet, social media
- Fake employment agencies
- Acquaintances or family
- Newspaper or online ads: Craig's List and Backpage.com are two common online venues used
- Front businesses
- Word of mouth
Traffickers come in many forms, but they do share some common characteristics. A trafficker…
- Is likely involved in a lucrative business enterprise (the heart of human trafficking is exploiting cheap labor)
- May be part of a larger organized crime ring or may be profiting independently
- Is most often the same race/ethnicity as the victim(s)
- Could be someone who knows the victim or the victim’s family
- Is likely bilingual
- Will likely be an older man with younger women who seems to be controlling, watching their every move, and correcting/instructing them frequently
Trafficking and the Super Bowl?
Studies have shown a dramatic increase in the demand for commercial sex services surrounding large sporting events such as the Super Bowl. KLAAS KIDS Foundation and F.R.E.E. International, in conjunction with law enforcement, conducted a study during the 2012 Super Bowl in my hometown of Indianapolis and found that online escort ads increased an astonishing 659% from January 12th to February 3rd.
My deepest appreciation goes to the Indiana Attorney General's Office under the direction of Attorney General Greg Zoeller for providing much of this information, research and data. Special thanks goes to Attorney and Human Trafficking Prevention Project Manager Nicole Baldonado and Intern Kelly Dobkins for their tremendous assistance, guidance and support. I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in a state where such talented, engaged and genuinely concerned professionals are working to protect people from the horrific realities of human trafficking.
Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website, “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids” at gingerkadlec.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.
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