Below are examples of the kinds of sex trafficking situations that we hear about most frequently on the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. They are by no means the only ways that sex trafficking can occur, but taken together may help you craft your own stories in ways that are realistic and impactful.
“Understanding what happened to you as trafficking is a really important part of healing, but it took me 10 years to realize: Hey. Wow. I was trafficked, because my situation was so different from what I had seen represented as trafficking.”
– A survivor of human trafficking
Romeo pimps or “boyfriending”
- Recruitment and grooming: A man and a woman meet briefly at a party and afterwards, he follows her on social media. He contacts her after she posts about a breakup with her baby’s father. He is everything she ever dreamed of – a great listener, very supportive. He showers her with gifts. She is deeply in love and believes she has found the person she will build her family with. One night he takes her to a party and he tells her to be “nice” to his friends – to earn jewelry. He makes it seem like it’s no big deal at first, so she does it. But then it becomes more frequent.
- Coercion and control: He keeps all the money she earns and tells her he is saving for them to buy a house. Sometimes he hits her to help her understand how much he needs for her to contribute. He says he will stop loving her and she will be alone again if she keeps making trouble.
- Exit: After he blackens her eye, she packs up a “go” bag, calls a friend and escapes when her trafficker is out of the house.
- Recruitment and grooming: Mom is a survivor of rape and abuse who has been prostituting for many years. In her community, there are few options for young people and she is already struggling to support her children. When men start expressing interest in one of the kids, she tells her it’s time to contribute to the household and takes her out on the streets.
- Coercion and control: The child loves her mother, and has no other means of support.
- Exit: A teacher notices the child is tired all the time and appears frightened and asks if she needs support. The child confides in her and a social services team comes together to work out a safe place for her to stay.
- Recruitment and grooming: A parent sexually abuses a child himself, and offers the child to others for sexual gratification in exchange for access to other young children.
- Coercion and control: The child has been taught that this kind of activity is ‘normal’ for parents and children and warned not to tell anyone or they will be hurt. NOTE: Coercion or control is not legally required for this to be considered trafficking because the victim is a minor.
- Exit: An ER doctor notices signs of sexual trauma and alerts child protective services to check on the family after the visit.
- Recruitment and grooming: A lonely, insecure teen dreams of a modeling career and frequently posts pictures of herself striking a pose. She is contacted by someone who claims to be a modeling agent and sends her a plane ticket to come to his studio. When she arrives, he takes her out on the town and tells her she has to “be nice” to some people in the business to get contracts and sends her out to prostitute.
- Coercion and control: She is far from home, didn’t tell her parents she was leaving, has no money and is ashamed. He tells her she is making a good impression, and that it will just take a little longer for her hard work to turn into modeling jobs.
- Exit: Eventually the child contacts a friend, who tells her family where she is and she is extracted from the situation.
- Recruitment and grooming: A teen who identifies as queer runs away from home in a small Texas town when his stepfather beats him up for his sexual identity. He camps out in a bus station and meets other runaways who tell him about someone they know in Houston who will probably let him stay at his house – for a price.
- Coercion and control: The person who owns the house is very straightforward about the arrangement. The teen can stay there as long as they provide sex to the homeowner and occasionally, other friends. The teen does not have any other options for housing and is also seeking a community, which he hopes to find with the homeowner.
- Exit: The teen meets other young people who have run away. They connect him with a supportive shelter situation and he returns to school.
Exploitation of addiction
- Recruitment and grooming: A trafficker hangs outside the municipal courthouse chatting up people as they come out of drug court, where they were busted for use charges. He offers them drugs for free, and slowly feeds their addiction. Soon, in order to access drugs, the trafficker tells them that they have to engage in sex acts for money.
- Coercion and control: Whenever the victim begins to talk about getting clean and getting out of prostitution, stripping, or porn, the trafficker gives them more drugs and builds their dependency. He also warns that he will report their drug use to their probation officer if they leave.
- Exit: The victim contacts the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which helps them find a space in a drug rehab facility.
Exploitation of disabilities
- Recruitment and grooming: A young adult with a developmental disability and limited family support is placed in a group living facility.
- Coercion and control: At the home, residents are told that sex with strangers is part of what they are expected to do to earn their meals and rent.
- Exit: After many complaints from family members of other residents who have left the home, it is finally shut down and the residents are sent to other safe facilities.
- Recruitment and grooming: A young woman grows up in a neighborhood where gangs control most of the commercial activity and the streets. She joins them for protection and a sense of belonging, and because there are few other options available. The gang tells her she has to engage in prostitution and give them the proceeds to help them pay a drug debt they owe to a rival gang.
- Coercion and control: If she leaves the gang, her family, their home and their business will be targeted for violence.
- Exit: When the gang is targeted in a police raid involving drugs, she is swept up by a trauma-informed police officer who understands the situation and connects her with appropriate supports.
- Recruitment and grooming: A young woman who grew up in foster care ages out and is left without a place to live or guidance for her future. She meets a man at her job at a gas station who tells her he has connections in the entertainment industry and she should come dance at his strip club where she will meet producers who might need an assistant. After a few weeks, he tells her the reason she isn’t getting noticed is that she does not perform sex acts in the club’s back room after her shift ends.
- Coercion and control: When she doesn’t comply, he threatens to fire and blackball her from any other clubs or music venues in the city. He also makes veiled threats about hurting her and her young child.
- Exit: She stays until she is able to save enough money to quit and begin community college.