Sex

The Realities of Sex Trafficking

Part 2: Who are the victims?

Posted Feb 08, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

          In part one of this brief series, I discussed the profile of sex traffickers.

          In this second segment, I focus on the victims of sex trafficking.

Those who are sex trafficked often come to be victims in one of two ways. They are forced or coerced into nonconsensual sexual behaviors or positions of sexual exploitation, or they enter willingly into occupations, such as prostitution or acting in adult films, and later are forced or coerced into non-consensual situations (Burke, 2013). In a forthcoming study of mine, I interviewed a variety of women about their experiences in the adult film industry. Several of these women discussed having willingly entered the industry and it was only after they became embedded in the business of adult film did they report being manipulated or forced to engage in sexual behaviors in which they did not want to participate. But, sex workers are far from the only demographic of people that can become victims of sex trafficking.

Characteristics of sex trafficking victims

There is a wide array of characteristics and group inclusions that make up the demographics of those who are sex trafficked. Sex trafficking victims can include:

  • Persons of any sex or gender
  • Pregnant women and LGBTQ+ youth are at a high risk for sex trafficking based on the increased money traffickers can make from these groups
  • Youth in the foster care system
  • Persons with mental health issues
  • Persons with drug addictions
  • Immigrants
  • Persons living in poverty
  • Homeless persons
  • Ages ranging from three-months to 70+ years old. This is not a typo. Instances of babies being sex trafficked as young as three months of age have been documented. In 2017, a three-month-old baby and her five-year-old sister were rescued during a sex trafficking FBI operation (Rosenberg, 2017).
  • People from middle- and upper-class families
  • College students
  • People who are dressed nicely
  • Introverted or extraverted people

The list could go on, but the point I hope is evident. Just as I previously noted about the characteristics of sex traffickers, anyone can be a victim of sex trafficking.

Nick Bondare/Pexels
Source: Nick Bondare/Pexels

How does someone become trafficked?

All people who become victims of sex trafficking are not physically forced. Manipulation plays a key role in how a person is trafficked. Traffickers may offer love and support to potential victims. They may create a relationship of companionship or show a high level of interest in the person that makes the person feel good. Traffickers may make promises of money and fame. As I learned in the aforementioned study of women in the adult film industry, some “agents” will make false promises of fame and money. They will also falsely claim that doing adult films is only a stepping stone to making it big in mainstream feature films and television.

Traffickers will dress and act like their targets, such as pretending to be a student at a college. Thereby, garnering trust by using the idea that they are one of the group. Sex traffickers will also glamorize sex to entice potential victims. And, finally, traffickers will use current victims to lure new victims into the fold. False promises and subtle mental coercion are at the forefront of the toolbox of sex traffickers.

What are the most common places to find sex trafficking and victims?

While sex trafficking can be found anywhere, there are a few places that require specific mention:

  • Hotels and motels
  • Illicit massage parlors
  • Places of commercial sex
  • Online ads
  • Sporting events

It’s important to note that sex trafficking does not exclusively occur in stereotypical shady areas of town or dilapidated structures. It can be found in high-class resorts, rural areas, metropolitan areas, universities, shopping malls, office buildings — anywhere, literally anywhere.

How can I recognize sex trafficking?

If anyone can be a sex trafficker and anyone can be sex trafficked and sex trafficking can occur anywhere, how can you recognize sex trafficking? It’s not always easy. In the final segment of this series on sex trafficking, I will discuss how to recognize it and what you can (and should) do when you suspect someone is being trafficked.

References

Burke, M.C. (2013). Human Trafficking. Routledge.

Rosenberg, E. (2017, October). Infant and her 5-year-old sister, allegedly on sale for $600, rescued in FBI sex trafficking sweep. The Washington Post,

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2017/10/19/infant-and-young-child-among-the-more-than-80-victims-rescued-in-major-fbi-sex-trafficking-sweep/