Sex trafficking occurs when individuals are forced, manipulated, or coerced into commercial sex acts by a trafficker. The trafficker retains all or most of the money/goods obtained through the exploited individual.
The trafficker is usually known to the individual through family, friends, acquaintances or romantic relationships. Traffickers can also make connections with individuals they intend to exploit through places such as emergency shelters, group homes, schools, social media and online gaming.
Traffickers may build close relationships with the individual by providing friendship, hope, loyalty, affection, promise of emotional support, physical or financial protection, and a place to live. Traffickers may also introduce, or provide, drugs and alcohol to inhibit an individual’s ability to assess risk and leave unsafe situations. In addition to making individuals feel safe and loved, traffickers often use threats of abandonment, isolation, physical and sexual violence, homelessness, financial damage, withholding basic needs and destruction of personal items, such as government identification, to coerce the individual into commercial sex acts. Traffickers may control individuals by threatening harm to their children or other family members, exposing acts of sex trafficking on social media, or having the exploited individual arrested for criminal acts or drug use.
When individuals find a way to escape or end the relationship with their trafficker, they may choose not look for support, report the crime or pursue legal action for many reasons – such as:
- the individual may not recognized they were trafficked
- feel shame, guilt and embarrassment
- afraid that family and friends will abandon them once they know
- afraid of retaliation and further abuse from trafficker or other parties
- afraid that family, friends, or law enforcement will not believe them
- do not want to subject themselves to a long and painful legal process
- don’t have physical or financial access to support
- may not qualify for socially funded support
- may be waitlisted for several weeks/months before receiving support
- experience other barriers when trying to access support such as language, cultural, religious, gender, or sexuality
No matter the nature of the relationship between the exploited individual and the trafficker the individual did not choose the exploitation and abuse in the relationship. Consent cannot be given under threats, coercion and manipulation. Traffickers benefit and profit from exploited individuals while robbing them of their freedom, health and dignity.