When we think of human trafficking, we imagine a young child tied up in chains. Although that can be a reality for some trafficking victims, most traffickers rely on manipulation that binds their victims through a tangled web of psychological “chains.” Because traffickers use the victim’s vulnerabilities for manipulation, many believe they have no other option but to be complicit in their exploitation. Traffickers are highly trained in the operations of their “business,” with grooming being an essential part of coercing the victim to believe that their trafficker is their boyfriend, a confidant, or a trusted friend who will give them a better life.
85% of trafficking survivors report that their trafficker was someone they knew and trusted before exploitation began. Building trust and gaining information are the first steps of grooming- this is simply done by having conversations and listening. Once trust is established the trafficker fills a need such as new clothes or electronics, drugs or alcohol, or gives the victim cash. Traffickers take the trust built and take it a step further by providing support the victim does not get at home, or they will develop a romantic relationship with the victim.
Now isolation begins. The trafficker uses the little nuggets of vulnerabilities learned through building trust with the victim; and uses it to coerce them into believing they are choosing their exploitation because they have no other option. This drives a wedge between the victim and their loved ones. Once isolation is established, abuse and control begin. Although the victim is not “tied up in chains,” they firmly believe they cannot escape and go into survival mode, only focusing on basic needs like food, water, shelter, sleep, and safety. “If I do what they say, I’ll get to eat, and he won’t hurt me.”
RED FLAGS OF GROOMING BEHAVIORS
- Isolating a person from family and friends
- An adult showing a youth more attention than others and giving them compliments and unnecessary gifts
- “No one understands you like I do”, and other phrases that undermine established supportive relationships
- Having a new, older boyfriend or girlfriend without a lot of other details
- New items (clothes, jewelry, electronics, money) that cannot or will not be explained
- Sexualized and secretive behaviors
- A sudden, drastic change in behavior or attitude, being excessively upset or distressed
Anyone can be at risk of human trafficking, no matter age, gender, or skin color. If you or someone you know is at risk of being trafficked, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1-888-3737-888, or text BEFREE (233733). If you are in need of immediate assistance or emotional support call The Life Crisis Center’s Hotline at 410-749-HELP.