Human trafficking has recently come to the forefront of media coverage, but it is not a new problem. It’s been an issue in societies for most of recorded history. Human trafficking is the movement of a person for the purposes of the trafficker including forced labor or sexual exploitation; in simple terms, it’s modern day slavery. It’s a subtle process that happens right in broad daylight in almost every community across the globe.
What Is Grooming?
Most victims of human trafficking aren’t being kidnapped from their homes in the middle of the night or being targeted in stores and parking lots. Most victims are usually unaware that they are being targeted until it is too the late. Grooming is the process by which a perpetrator manipulates his or her intended target. The easiest people for a perpetrator to target are those who lack a strong support system and/or have been ostracized by their community.
What Are the Signs of Grooming?
A new bond. Most groomers will develop an intimacy and trust with their target. They’ll appear to be the attentive to the victims problems or concerns and offer solutions, sometimes in the form of money or other assistance. For children, the age of the child’s new friend should be of concern. While there are teenagers who groom victims, most groomers are adults preying on people much younger than themselves.
Obtain information. Through their efforts of establishing a bond, perpetrators will listen to their target and gain the information they need. Does this person live alone or have very little supervision? This helps them decide if their target will be easy prey or if they should move on to someone more pliable and less likely to draw attention.
Pull away. Once the groomer feels secure enough in his or her bond with the victim, they will begin to isolate the victim from their friends and family. For children, the groomer will make it appear they are the only one who understands and wants what’s best for the child. For young adults, they’ll point out the flaws of others and perceived criticism of the victim.
Full control. After the victim has been adequately separated from their support system, emotionally or physically, the groomer will then begin to exert control over the victim. Often the perpetrator will look for the victim to “pay back” him or her for the good deeds performed over their time together. This often turns into demand for sexual acts or other activities such as delivering or picking up drugs.
Who Is At Risk?
Many people would be surprised to learn that young girls aren’t the only targets of traffickers and not all traffickers are looking for victims to fulfill sexual desires. Children of all ages and of both sexes are at risk. Young adults can also be targets. Minority communities, people who identify as LGBTQ+, and people who have previously been abused are more likely to fall victim to human trafficking than those in middle class or affluent communities or who identify as straight[i].
What Can Be Done?
The best defense against human trafficking is awareness. For parents, it’s being aware of your child’s relationships with friends and the adults they interact with. For all of us, it’s being aware of the behavior of your friends, family members, coworkers, and even strangers. Common signs of trafficking victims are never being alone or anxious about being separated from a person, does not carry identification, inconsistencies when sharing details about themselves, fears law enforcement involvement.[ii]
If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking you can offer to help find a safe place for them, create an action plan to help get them to a safe place. You can also contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888 for more assistance or resources.