Advertisements for sex trafficking in newspapers and online websites like Backpage.com help support a dangerous occupation that leaves victims with an average of seven years to live. Sex trafficking victims, especially children, are forced into the industry and terrible living conditions for others’ profit.
According to a study done by Polaris, founder of the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2007, the number of reported human trafficking cases in the U.S. increases each year.
The consistent availability of potential victims and the profit margin makes the business seem secure in the near future despite recent efforts of awareness education and statewide trafficking training for state law enforcement, judiciary and state agencies.
In a story about a young trafficked girl named Tasha, told by Yolanda Schlabach, a member of Delaware’s Human Trafficking Coordinating Council and Co-Chair of the Victim Services Committee, 300 contacts were made in response to one online ad on Backpage advertising sex with a minor. Some victims are forced to publish their own ads online.
According to Schladbach, code words such as “new,” “petite” or “extra small” are used in online advertisements to suggest the ad is for a minor. These ads typically have a video or picture, real or fake, of an underage girl. The customers then call the number and set up the appointment through the pimp.
Other key phrases such as “no police” or “this is not trafficking” are also used in online advertisements to hint to their online audience that it is indeed a trafficking ring as opposed to an independent prostitute, according to Project Fight’s Victoria Johnson.
There are also websites such as Rubmaps.com where customers rate sex workers on their services and provide a list of places in the area that offer these services and compare costs. Not only do they rate the services, but also the victims’ body parts.
These customers, also known as “Johns,” could be anybody. There is no particular pattern of who these men might be, considering the industry is present in almost all areas of the world.
“They are from every walk of life, every race and culture. People you work with and rub shoulders with every day,” Schladbach said.
Sex traffickers lure their victims, typically children or teenagers, by promising them security and love. However, they tell the victim that they have to contribute funds through prostitution. The victim either agrees in order to please the trafficker, or they are threatened and beaten until they agree.
Runaways are also prime victims for sex trafficking.
According to Meghan Sobel, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Regis University, traffickers approach runaways within 48 hours of living on the streets. They offer the runaways shelter, food, or a fast solution to earn money.
An unnamed sex trafficking victim during a 2013 interview for WMUR-TV, a news station in New Hampshire, was approached at 15 years old by a fellow peer at school. He complimented and built a relationship with her for about six months until he asked if she wanted a ride home.
“I really, honestly believed that he was going to take me home. But he didn’t,” the woman stated.
The boy stopped by his house and asked her to come in for a drink, which was drugged. In her incapacitated state, the boy raped her and took pictures to blackmail her into becoming a teenage prostitute. The boy later threatened to kill her family and friends if she told anybody about her situation.
She worked every night and went to school the next day, rarely getting sleep. One particular night, she was picked up by different drivers, kidnapped and taken to a hotel room with 30 men. She passed out during the event and when she awoke, she decided she was going to get out of the industry.
A few months later, her family moved out of state and sold their house to her father’s employer, releasing her from her traffickers. Her parents had no idea about what happened to their daughter.
“Three percent are kidnapped into it – 35 percent of human trafficking victims are sold into it by family members. And then 62 percent are seduced into it or convinced by somebody they know,” she said.
The unnamed victim’s story was unique in that she was trafficked, but still lived at home, did her homework and went to school every day. Although, in theory, she could have walked away, she was trapped by threats made by her pimp. Some victims also choose to go into the sex industry to support their family.
“Most victims of sex trafficking are physically free,” Sobel said, “but not psychologically free.”