Understanding At Risk Populations in Human Trafficking

Populations Vulnerable to Human Trafficking

Victims of human trafficking can be any age, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation. However, some populations, such as women and girls, may be disproportionately at risk. Here are some other critical populations that are at a higher risk:

Individuals with substance use and co-occurring disorders, individuals experiencing homelessness, people of color, disconnected youth, immigrants, migrant and seasonal workers, indigenous communities, LGBTQ2IA+ individuals, individuals with disabilities, survivors of other violence, in-home workers, Service members, and  DoD family members and/or Dependents

*Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Another underlying risk factor for human trafficking is child abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children who are victims of human trafficking often have a history of abuse, neglect, and trauma.1 Traffickers exploit these Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs). In one study of 913 juvenile-justice involved boys and girls, ACE composite scores were higher and 6 or more conventional ACEs were prevalent among the youths who had been trafficked.1 Sadly, childhood trauma is not limited to any specific group and can infiltrate any population, including the Defense Department community. Survivor stories, such as those from Jerome Elam and Barbara Amaya, provide glimpses of the thread connecting early childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction to additional trauma throughout the lifespan, including exploitation and human trafficking.2

1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27997232/

2 Source of ACEs chart: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Source of study linking human trafficking and ACEs: NIH National Library of Medicine, “Human Trafficking of Minors and Childhood Adversity in Florida,” Reid, et al.

Children and Youth

Every state in the United States has reported TIP cases. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking because they are dependent upon others for their welfare, they are trusting and don’t always understand they are in danger, and thus can be more easily targeted and manipulated.3

New research shows that children who have experienced prior abuse, housing and economic instability, or suffered shame and stigma are especially vulnerable. Risk factors that contribute to children running away include family dynamics, family violence, bullying, sexual abuse, and neglect. If these youth end up in the streets, without support networks, and few options to meet their basic needs, they become potential targets for [human] trafficking.

3 U.S. AID Child Safeguarding Toolkit, November 18, 2020 https://www.usaid.gov/PreventingSexualMisconduct/Partners/Child-Safeguarding

Vulnerabilities of Military-Connected Students

Military-connected students face special challenges that could contribute to their vulnerability to human trafficking. These include:

  • Separations from a parent or caregiver due to deployments
  • High mobility rates – active-duty families move every two to three years (This is approximately three times more often than the civilian population. Students often experience six to nine moves during their P-12 school education)
  • Academic and social challenges attributed to frequent school changes, deployment of a parent(s), return of a deployed parent, injury to or death of a parent, etc.
  • Difficulties qualifying for, receiving, or continuing special needs services due to differences in regulation interpretations, testing required to enroll in or receive special needs services, and resource availability in school districts
  • Understanding and interpreting new school regulations and policies
  • Elevated stress levels – making new friends and finding a new peer group in a new school; adjustment to a new school, community, and home
  • At-risk for depression and anxiety due to relocation, deployment of a parent(s), etc.
  • Adjusting to curriculum and instructional methods or school climate/culture that may differ from school to school5, 6

5 Military Child Education Coalition, “Who Are Military Connected Students?” https://www.militarychild.org/

6 For more information on preventing trafficking of military-connected students see the DoD CTIP Student Guide to Preventing Human Trafficking and the accompanying Parent Resource Guide. https://ctip.defense.gov/CTIP-Student-Guide/ and https://ctip.defense.gov/Portals/12/Parent%20Resource%20Guide_FINAL_1.pdf