Have you ever met a person and felt a special connection. They buy you gifts or fulfill your needs emotionally or romantically. They build trust with you and you feel like you have something special, but what if the relationship was going in a completely different direction. When we think of the idea of sex trafficking, we envision a stranger coming and taking you. We never see it happening through a friend or someone that we trust.
I was talking to a student the other day about safety on social media, and quickly they responded with, “Don’t worry it is only my friends and I don’t share with anyone else. I am safe.” Many of us have this idea that as long as we know someone and trust them then they would never hurt us on purpose. The scary truth is that human trafficking usually starts with a process called grooming through an individual that has grown close to you.
By definition grooming is preparing or training a person for a particular purpose or activity. Traffickers tend to target someone with a noticeable vulnerability whether that be emotional, financial or many other needs. They gain trust and information from that person and then start to fill those needs. That could be through gifts, financial help, being a friend, beginning a love relationship, or buying them alcohol or drugs. This is not an obvious process. Many people who are being groomed do not feel like this person could harm them or feel unsafe with this individual. They have built trust and have not tried to push them physically in the relationship. After a person has made these steps they will start to isolate you from friends or family and this person will start to play a major role in your life. For many people this could seem like just a really good friendship or a great new romance, but soon the trafficker will start to ask to be repaid in some way. Many times the trafficker will demand sex as a payment option. At the end, a person can find themselves stuck because of fear that comes from threats, violence or blackmail.
You may think this is not something that would ever happen to me, yet over 20.9 million people are victims to trafficking globally. Minnesota had the third highest numbers of human trafficking cases in 2015.
Below is a list of potential red flags to look for in other relationships or people to protect yourself and others from possible human trafficking.
General Warning Signs:
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior:
Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid.
Avoids eye contact
Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or of what city he/she is in
Poor Physical Health:
Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Shows signs of substance abuse or addiction Lack of Control:
Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport) Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves
Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
School Specific Warning Signs:
Sudden change in attire, behavior, relationships, or possessions (e.g., has expensive items) Misses school on a regular basis and/or has unexplained absences
Carrying more than one cell phone
Picked up by different people every day after school
Falling asleep in class regularly
Frequently runs away from home
Makes references to frequent travel to other cities or towns
Shows signs of drug addiction and/or physical abuse
Has coached/rehearsed responses to questions
Is uncharacteristically promiscuous and/or makes references to sexual situations that are beyond age-specific norms Has a “boyfriend” or a “girlfriend” who is noticeably older
Students, watch for someone who…
… is older than you that is romantically interested in you … is telling you everything you want to hear
… is pulling you away from friends or family
… wants you to go away with them
… wants to meet you where no one else is around
… wants you to have sexual conversations or send sexual pictures
… is giving you expensive gifts or showing you expensive items & telling you that you can live a similar lifestyle
… is telling you they know of a job where you can get rich, but they’re not willing to disclose details about this job
If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.