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Love & Trafficking: Being THAT Friend

If you have ever said anything negative about a new love interest to an infatuated friend, you may well have learned an unfortunately dangerous lesson: No one says “thank you” when you criticize the person they think they are in love with and pinning their hopes on. In fact, quite the opposite. Most people don’t react well – at least in the moment – to being told their significant other is bad news.

Do it anyway.

It may help keep someone out of a painful trafficking situation. Here’s why:

In the hands of human traffickers, love is one of the most powerful weapons. While the myths and stereotypes about human trafficking make it seem like most trafficking begins with kidnapping and violence, the reality is that a huge percentage of sex trafficking victims were trafficked by someone they loved and trusted.

The way love is weaponized and wielded depends on the type of trafficking situation. In a familial situation, a child is sold by a parent who the child depends on for both financial and, more importantly, emotional support. The child is groomed through the natural process of children growing up and attaching to family members. They have been taught what love is supposed to look like, in some cases, by the very people who then exploit them. To maintain the love of their families, or uphold family norms, they agree to sell sex.

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Romantic love is also a powerful part of the trafficking arsenal. The classic scenario involves Romeo pimps who purposefully target women or girls and sweep them off their proverbial feet, then slowly, carefully, convince the victim that their love requires her to sell sexual services.

The ways in which this process plays out is not always the same and not always blatant. But if you understand how sex traffickers groom their targets through manipulation of love, you can see it happening.

These are the moments when you have to be THAT friend. It is not a matter of snatching your friend out of harm’s way. Your friend probably won’t thank you and probably won’t break up with the person, or maybe even give it any thought. But eventually, what you told your friend, about how traffickers operate, will come back and help make things clear and maybe keep them safe.

That’s why we are asking you to pledge to be the kind of friend who has these hard conversations and shares what they learned. Spread it around. #LoveIsnt

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.