How are Traffickers Reaching Victims?

In and Around Schools

Traffickers target victims with grooming and manipulation tactics. Sex trafficking often begins with someone the victim knows. The grooming process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Targeting the victim: Traffickers will seek out individuals with needs and vulnerabilities. Traffickers or their “recruiters” will loiter near schools, youth shelters, local malls, bus/train stations, or fast-food establishments. Traffickers will look for those who appear to be “loners,” naïve, have low self-esteem, have suffered a recent breakup, and/or have difficulty with family or peer groups.
  2. Gaining Trust: The trafficker will work to gain the victim’s trust by attempting to bond over common interest and ask personal questions about the victim’s life to encourage sharing and disclosing more to the trafficker or recruiter, building a false sense of “close relationship.”
  3. Meeting Needs: After gaining a victim’s trust, the trafficker/recruiter will offer to meet the victims’ needs for safety, food, shelter, clothing, expensive gifts. The trafficker may also feign interest in the victim and offer affection, sense of family, of belonging, and love.
  4. Isolation: Traffickers will create a dynamic of victim dependency. Signs of isolation emerge as the trafficker discourages or prohibits the victim from interacting with friends, family, sports, or any social circles that were once important. Using isolation tactics, the trafficker will create a barrier for the victim to come forward and reach out for help.
  5. Exploitation: Exploitation may begin slowly, pressuring the victim to go against their comfort level and boundaries at an increasing rate. Violence and use of force are not always necessary, as the trafficker may coerce the victim to “help them with a favor” or “help pay the bills” or “make quick money” by arranging a “date” with a friend or stranger or working for little or no money as a “favor.” Over time, the victim becomes conditioned to believe that the trafficker’s requests are “normal” and/or that they owe the trafficker for all the trafficker has done or provided for them.
  6. Maintaining Control: Once traffickers have established control over the victim, they continue to manipulate the circumstances and use force, fraud, and coercion to keep the victim from leaving. The trafficker will use any/all tactics to gain/maintain full control over the victim and keep the victim in the trafficking situation.

At Malls, City Centers, Bars

Traffickers may target potential victims with compliments to their appearance, telling them that they would be perfect for the modeling industry.

Traffickers may approach victims with job promises of fast cash and that seem “too good to be true.”

On Social Media, Online, and Dating and Gaming Apps

Social media and online dating apps are great ways to meet and connect with new people, but they can also be utilized criminally. Traffickers use the anonymity of the internet to develop trust and a seemingly solid friendship, then arrange to meet and deceive a victim into trafficking. This exploitation could even begin on livestreaming platforms with chat functions. Not everyone is out to harm or hurt others, but you should make your faith community aware of some predatory tactics:

  • Instant Love:
    Traffickers lure their victims into becoming emotionally attached. Encourage those in your community to take the time to get to know someone. Some tactics include:
    • Engaging in sexual conversation/role-playing.
    • Asking for sexually explicit images or mutually sharing images.
    • Developing a rapport through compliments, discussing shared interests or “liking” their online post, which can be a form of grooming.
    • Sending or offering sexually explicit images of themselves.
    • Pretending to be younger.
  • Willingness to Pay:
    Traffickers quickly establish themselves as trustworthy confidants. Under the guise of love, the trafficker will offer to pay for a potential victim to travel to a weekend getaway. Make sure that those in your community know that if they decide to meet, it’s somewhere they feel safe and comfortable. Traffickers may also offer an incentive such as a gift card, alcohol, drugs, lodging, transportation or food. Money transfers, cryptocurrencies, online payment services, deposits to bank accounts, debit/credit cards, and gift cards have been used to pay for human trafficking. To allow for “secret” communication, traffickers may also provide victims with cellphones, smart watches, webcams, and other portable technology.
  • Job Promises:
    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We should all be wary of offers for jobs in fields that are typically hard to break into, such as modeling and acting. Traffickers lure victims into isolation away from their communities, friends, and family. Raise awareness among your community to be wary of job offers that are too good to be true, whether in the neighborhood or community, or in remote locations, faraway states, and foreign cities.

Social Media Types that Traffickers use:
Traffickers will use any app that allows strangers to message each other, including social media, livestream, text and video chat apps, multiplayer games, dating apps, and anonymous apps.

Live streaming of child sex trafficking can occur in online chat rooms, social media platforms, and any communication app that has video chat. Traffickers and predators who use live streaming for sex trafficking may pay to watch, may interact with the victim, the abuser, and/or facilitator of the child sexual abuse and requesting specific physical acts and/or sexual acts to be performed on and/or performed by the child. Traffickers may also use live streaming to simultaneously sexually abuse a victim in a group video call where separate, multiple predators abuse separate, multiple victims not co-located (UNODC, 2015; Interagency Working Group, 2016, p. 47).

  • Social media apps
    • Social media platforms also open the door for cyberbullying while some include a location-tracking feature
  • Live-streaming and video chat apps
    • Videos are live
    • Ability to access content that has been blocked by other apps
    • Some include 2-way video to randomly connect strangers, known as “chat roulette”
    • Traffickers may use live streaming to “real-time” broadcast sexual abuse to viewers in other locations
  • Chat apps
    • Utilize text messaging features
    • Some include “invite only” conversations
  • Multiplayer games with built-in chat
    • Gaming apps often include in-game chatrooms and voice chat
  • Dating apps
    • Includes a mix of adult dating apps and sites for casual hook-ups
    • Includes location monitoring, in-app chat, video calls, and Wi-Fi calls
    • Many allow sharing of images
  • Explicit apps
    • These apps include sexually explicit material that is not allowed on other sites
  • Interactive story or simulation apps
    • These include romance/erotica stories that allow the reader to choose what happens next
    • Characters are often “sketched,” and some appear similar to comic books, cartoons, or anime, so minors may not be aware of the content until after the app is downloaded
  • Deepfake apps
    • Allow for photo, video, audio and digital alterations, allowing “fake” content to be created
  • Mining apps
    • Mining apps use your phone's CPU to mine bitcoins or other digital currency
  • Secret storage apps
    • These are used to store photos, videos & files in a discreet password-protected location
    • The app icon often looks like a calculator or another inconspicuous app
    • Traffickers may encourage a victim to use a secret storage app to hide photos and videos
  • Anonymous apps
    • These apps do not require an account to be created or for the user to share identifiable information
    • Anonymous apps allow users to ask questions and share info without creating an account

Important things to know about smartphone apps:

  • Apps can be renamed. An app may be hidden by renaming it and changing the icon through the Shortcuts app on an iPhone. Once an App icon and the name have been changed, the user can remove the original icon from the home screen. The same thing can be done on an Android phone.
  • Apps can be hidden. Apps don’t have to show up on the home screen. The user can conceal downloaded app by setting up a harmless-looking shortcut, using the App Library, or re-downloading the app on the App Store.

At DoD and Faith-based Community Events

Traffickers may target activities that involve the DoD Community and that take place outside of military or faith-based community. These can include community meals, fundraisers, special services, and pre and post deployment family events, and holiday-themed events.

In Houses of Worship

Faith leaders must be vigilant of any suspicious activities they may see in their worship communities, including behaviors that may be present with children, adults, commanders, supervisors, and other religious leaders. Peer-to-peer recruitment is just one example of how a trafficker may exploit the members of the faith community. Peer-to-peer recruitment is when traffickers coerce or force their victims into recruiting their peers with potential promises of payment or reward (i.e., a finder’s fee), better status or position, or less abuse and better treatment. Use of a peers masks the identity of the trafficker and preys on the established relationships and community connections with use of an “insider.”