Sex

The Realities of Sex Trafficking

Part 1: The profile of a sex trafficker.

Posted Jan 29, 2021 | Reviewed by Devon Frye

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor and sexual exploitation” (NIJ, 2019). Necessary components of human trafficking compose the AMP model (Action-Means-Purpose): (1) The Action of recruitment, transfer, transport, harboring, or receipt of a person, (2) The Means being a use of force, threat, manipulation, or abuse, and (3) The Purpose to exploit a person for personal gain.

Globally, human trafficking takes many forms, including labor trafficking, military trafficking, and sex trafficking. Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide; $99 billion of that is generated by the sex trafficking industry. Following the United Nation’s definition of human trafficking, sex trafficking, specifically, is the recruitment, transport, transfer, harboring, or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, manipulation, or deception to cause a commercial sex act. Commercial sex acts include anything from pornography or prostitution to sexual performance.

The purpose of this brief series in "This Sexual Self" is to clear up some myths about sex trafficking and expand awareness on the issue, aid in the recognition of sex trafficking, and inform individuals what they can do when sex trafficking is suspected. I begin this series with a profile of the sex trafficker.

Lalesh Aldarwis/Pexels
Source: Lalesh Aldarwis/Pexels

Profiling a Sex Trafficker

A sex trafficker is one who uses force or manipulation of others to cause commercial sex acts for personal gain. What precisely does a sex trafficker look like? Often what comes to mind is an unkempt, single man in his mid-thirties with a long history of criminal activity (what you may see in the movies). Yes, that may be the profile of some, but it is far from the only characteristics that identify sex traffickers. The age, for example, can range from teens through the 60s. According to surveys conducted by Breaking Free, a nonprofit dedicated to ending sex trafficking, sex traffickers in the U.S. also possessed the following characteristics:

  • 67 percent of sex traffickers were white
  • 66 percent had children
  • 52 percent were married
  • 72 percent had college degrees
  • 81 percent have no criminal history
  • Both men and women can be sex traffickers
  • Sex traffickers can have high powered, professional positions in addition to their trafficking activities

What I’m trying to get across here is something very important to realize—anyone can be a sex trafficker. Just because a woman in her sixties has been working as a well-respected physician for forty years and has a loving family doesn’t mean she cannot be a sex trafficker. Many traffickers are able to fly under the radar due to these assumptions.

How Traffickers Control Their Victims

Part of understanding sex trafficking and, ultimately, being able to identify traffickers is recognizing how the trafficker controls their victim. Beyond mental and physical manipulation and abuse, the trafficker will also resort to threats, such as threatening to kill the victim’s family members should the victim refuse to do what they are told or attempt to leave. In the case of immigrants, the trafficker may misrepresent U.S. law as it pertains to immigration or make false promises of being able to obtain citizenship for their victim.

Traffickers will often keep a running debt with the victim, promising to set them free once their debt is paid off—a debt that accumulates faster than can be paid. Traffickers will also move victims around to hold them to a sense of being lost or isolated, thus rendering them vulnerable. This is particularly effective when the victim is unfamiliar with their surroundings, such as those who are new to the country. Drugs are often used to get the victim hooked—the supply of which is provided and controlled by the trafficker.

Finally, the trafficker will typically shame the victim into believing no one else but the trafficker would want the victim, setting up the trafficker as the only friend or family of the victim. Victims oftentimes do get away from their trafficker, but may end up returning; on average, they escape and return 6 to 8 times. Some of the reasons they return are based on the need for basic necessities of food and shelter, drugs, or they have no one else to whom they can turn. In these cases, the control is cemented.

If Anyone Can Be a Trafficker, How Can a Trafficker Be Recognized?

As noted, anyone can be a trafficker, so how can a trafficker be recognized? One way is to forego the characteristics of the person and take notice of how the individual is treating those in close contact to them. Are they exhibiting behaviors of control? For instance, does the person keep those around them from socializing with others? Does the individual speak for certain individuals in their orbit? Do they keep moving around? These are just a few things to look for when sex trafficking is suspected. Another way is to consider the profile of the trafficking victim in relation to the trafficker. This will be addressed in the next "This Sexual Self."

References

National Institute of Justice. (2019, Feb. 5). Overview of human trafficking and NIJ’s role.

https://nij.ojp.gov/topics/articles/overview-human-trafficking-and-nijs-role#note1