Understanding the issue of human trafficking and exploitation is the first step to help prevent it.
This session will:
- Define key terms: human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, force/fraud/coercion
- Provide brief overview of trafficking in a global context
- Focus on domestic sex trafficking of youth
- Explore recruitment tactics
- Address common misconceptions about trafficking
What is human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation?
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines human trafficking as any labor or commercial sex act induced through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the profit of a third party (i.e., a trafficker). In the case of sex trafficking, the trafficker receives something of value (e.g., money, goods, drugs) for the sexual exploitation of the victims. When a minor is being exploited by a third party for sexual purposes, force, fraud, or coercion does not need to be present for the situation to be considered human trafficking because according to federal law children under 18 years old cannot consent to engage in commercial sex.
The terms human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) are often used interchangeably. For the purposes of this curriculum, CSE is defined as the abuse of power differentials or the exploitation of a person’s vulnerabilities in order to induce a sexual act(s) in exchange for something of value (e.g., money, a place to stay, goods). The CSE of children is any sexual act(s) involving a child (under 18) in exchange for something of value. This includes child pornography, child sex tourism, and child marriage (when something of value is exchanged). Therefore, the difference between human trafficking and CSE is that human trafficking always involves a third party that is benefiting from the situation.
What is force/fraud/coercion?
For labor or commercial sexual exploitation to be trafficking, it must involve some element of force, fraud, or coercion. The following are examples of force, fraud, and coercion in the context of human trafficking:
- Physical assault
- Sexual assault, rape
- Physical confinement or isolation
- Fraudulent employment offers
- False promises about living or work conditions
- Withholding wages
- Posing as a friend or romantic partner
- Threats to life, safety, family members or others
- Threats of deportation or arrest
- Debt bondage
- Withholding legal documents
- Psychological manipulation
Whether it is through the use of physical force, deception, fear, or any other manipulation tactic, human trafficking involves the loss of freedom and the use of people as commodities. For this reason human trafficking is also known as modern day slavery.
COMMON RECRUITMENT TACTICS
Traffickers often groom their victims by taking advantage of vulnerabilities. Sometimes a trafficker can spend weeks and months at a time in a process of building a false relationship while isolating their victims. It is not uncommon for victims to not realize that they are being exploited. In some cases it might even look as if the victims have walked into the trafficking situations willingly. In a sense that might be true only to the extent that either they did not know what they were walking into or they are being manipulated and controlled. Taking a closer look at vulnerabilities and how they put youth at risk will expand on the understanding of the psychological dynamics of this type of abuse and what prevention and early intervention looks like in this context. Session 2 will address vulnerabilities in more detail.
The following are examples of common recruitment tactics and ways in which youth become involved in the commercial sex industry:
- Grooming by providing expensive items
- Grooming by fulfilling emotional needs (spending time, listening, giving compliments)
- Peer pressure
- Using pictures, personal information or anything else that might cause fear of embarrassment or getting in trouble with family, school, law, etc.
- Online recruitment through social media or chat rooms
- Engaging in survival sex to fulfill basic needs
Grooming is to prepare or train (someone) for a particular purpose or activity. Traffickers take advantage of emotions such as wanting to feel love, affection and attention. They also take advantage of feelings of wanting nice things or a glamorous lifestyle, or even the feeling of wanting to be grown up and independent. The words of Donny Pauling, a former pornography producer, makes this clear:
“Porn can give me this lifestyle?” she’d ask herself. “No dear girl, this lifestyle isn’t for you,” I’d say. “You can’t handle this business. What if your dad finds out you’re working for me?” The more a college-aged girl was presented with questions like this, the more she’d argue that I was wrong and this life was something she could handle. When her life began falling apart, I could pat myself on the back for having warned her against getting involved in the first place.
ADDRESSING COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS
In the past several years attention to the issue of trafficking has been increasing. Most people can say that they have heard about trafficking in persons at some point. Yet misconceptions and myths around this issue still persist, even among professionals. The following are some of the common misconceptions we’ve come across in our workshops.
|Human trafficking only happens in poor countries.||Trafficking happens everywhere, including the United States. Not only are people brought to the U.S., nationals are trafficked domestically every year. No one knows for sure how many people are trafficked, but various reports estimate that thousands of men, women, and children are trafficked domestically in the U.S.|
|Human smuggling is an example of trafficking.||Trafficking can involve smuggling in the process, but movement is not necessary for someone to be trafficked. A person can be trafficked in their own city, neighborhood or house.|
|Only girls and women are victims.||Though it’s less frequently talked about due to gendered stereotypes and assumptions, boys and men are also trafficked. In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that 55% of trafficking victims for both sex and labor are women and girls.|
|Human trafficking is primarily about sexual exploitation.||While awareness about sex trafficking has recently gained a lot of momentum, labor trafficking is a prevalent reality. In fact, the 2012 report from the International Labor Organization estimates that of the 20.9 million enslaved worldwide, 4.5 million are in sexual exploitation while 14.2 million in forced labor.|
|Most people in the commercial sex industry choose to do it, earn a lot of money, and find pleasure and enjoyment in their work.||While there are some individuals that freely choose to work in the commercial sex industry, there is a disproportionate number of people in the commercial sex industry who are victims of trafficking or have been in the past. Victims of trafficking only get a small portion of their earnings from their traffickers, if any. Emotional and physical abuse are very common in the commercial sex industry, along with rape, robbery, and sexual assault. Some are driven to the commercial sex industry due to financial pressure and lack of opportunities.|
|Most people in the commercial sex industry are adults.||The average age of entry into commercial sex is between 11-14.|
|Child trafficking victims are usually kidnapped.||In the U.S., youth are most commonly recruited into trafficking through seemingly caring and loving relationships with traffickers who emotionally disguise themselves. Typically, traffickers offer to provide for material or emotional needs. It is common for traffickers to also use different forms of psychological coercion and physical force to keep control over their victims.|
|The typical pimp looks like what used to be portrayed in the media.||Traffickers and pimps can look like and be anyone: businessman, grandmothers, celebrities, parents, firefighters, and religious leaders have been found guilty of trafficking. Even youth have been found guilty of trafficking their peers at school.|
|Why don’t they just run?||The relationship between a trafficking victim and their trafficker is very similar to other abusive relationships. Having a good understanding of trauma bonding, Stockholm syndrome, and the wheel of power and control aids in understanding the complexity of the issue. In some cases, victims don’t leave their trafficker because the situation at home seems worse than being with the trafficker. For others, financial pressure keeps the victim from leaving the situation.|