BEING "IN THE LIFE"

Being “in the life” is an expression sometimes used by trafficking victims to describe living in the sex trade.

When we hear it at Street Safe, it’s often being said by a victim who wants to describe what they have endured — such as repeated rapes and beatings — without spelling it out. It’s a type of shorthand that allows them to refer euphemistically to a world that can be too brutal to talk about

Being “in the life” doesn’t just happen. It takes the purposeful determination of a trafficker who manipulates a victim into selling sex.

 

This process takes time and, in general, has to progress through three stages:

  1. Victim Selection Stage

  2. Grooming Stage

  3. Maintaining Control Stage

 

This last stage, Maintaining Control, is all about coercion — much of it violent and calculating — and will continue as long as the victim is “in the life.”

And the reality of being “in the life” is harsh. It’s one of selling sex, placing ads, meeting in hotel rooms, and trying to survive.

Despite this, 88% of victims said they would not want to pursue the arrest of their trafficker. 1

ON OTHER PAGES

Amount taken by traffickers

Amount traffickers "earn" per week in 8 cities

Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn

WHERE SOLICITATION OCCURS IN-PERSON

“Solicitation” happens the moment a buyer — either directly or indirectly — offers money or something of value in exchange for sex.

 

The main places where buyers approach trafficking victims or traffickers to buy sex are:

  • 75-92% online 1,2,3

  • Street or “track” 1

  • Brothel 1

  • Massage parlor 1

  • Strip club, erotic service 1

  • Bar, club, cantina 1

  1. Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Note: As the researchers wrote several times in their study, the data they cite comes solely from cases in the federal legal system. Federal agencies largely do not investigate prostitution on the street nor in clubs since that would be handled on the local level. This distinction means the following information should be viewed using that lens — Based on the 427 active federal criminal sex trafficking cases in 2020 for which a method of solicitation was identified, 83% of solicitation happened online (356); 5% street or “track” (21); 3% Brothels (12); 1% massage parlors (5); 1% Strip clubs, erotic services (5); Less than 1% bars, clubs, cantinas (3)]

  2. Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Vol. 28(6) 491–511 Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Vol. 28(6) 491–511 [Of 79 DMST females who received social services from 2007- 2012 in two Florida cities, 92% sold online]

  3. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [Survey of 260 DMST survivors helped at agencies across U.S. in 2012, 75% reported they were trafficked online]

WHERE SOLICITATION OCCURS ONLINE

There are several studies that examine the websites most frequented by buyers and sellers of sex, however, these “top sites” have changed significantly over the years. Some of the most popular online platforms in 2015 are no longer operational. Because of that, we only presenting data from a 2020 study that looked at the sites most used to sex sell in federal criminal sex trafficking cases:

  • 16% of buyers solicited sex on Skip the Games

  • 14% Mega Personals

  • 9% Backpage* (no longer in operation)

  • 8% Craigslist

 

* - The cases involving Backpage are from crimes committed prior to the government shutdown of that company in 2018

Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Based on the 87 new federal criminal sex trafficking cases in 2020 in which the primary method of solicitation was internet-based, the top platforms used for solicitation were Skip the Games (16%, 14), Mega Personals (14%, 12), Backpage (9%, 8), and Craigslist (8%, 7)]

ADVERTISING

ABOUT ONLINE ADVERTISEMENTS 1

  • 68% of victims said the photos in the ads were actual photos of them “most of the time” or “always”

  • 67% of trafficked victims said the trafficker was the one posting the ads

  • 62% of victims who posted online ads themselves were required by their trafficker to post a certain number of times per day

  • 8 — the number of ads posted per day on average

    • Most posted 4 ads per day

Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [Survey of 260 DMST survivors helped at agencies across U.S.]

REGARDING AD CONTENT 1

47% of underage victims said the following words were used in online ads to signal they were young, starting with the most common:

  • Young

  • Fresh

  • Tender or tenderoni

  • Sweet

  • Barely legal

  • Virgin

  • Teen

  • College

  • Petite

  • New

Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [In a survey of 262 DMST survivors helped at agencies across U.S. in 2012, the most common words used in online advertisements for underage victims were: young (n=44), fresh (n=13), tender or tenderoni (n=6), sweet (n=6) barely legal (n=5), virgin (n=5), teen (n=4), college (n=4), petite (n=4), new (n=4), and innocent (n=3)]

Synonyms for young used by traffickers-01.jpg

COMMUNICATION WITH BUYERS 1

  • 51% of trafficking victims said they communicated with buyers themselves

  • 42% of trafficking victims said the trafficker communicated with the buyers

    • “There is a strong indication that when a trafficker is communicating with the buyers, the age of the victim is likely to be younger than 13 years old”

Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [In a survey of 260 DMST survivors helped at agencies across U.S. in 2012, 42% (n=85) of victims with a trafficker said that the trafficker communicated with the buyers whereas 51% (n=104) said they (the respondents) communicated with buyers themselves]

WHERE SEX ACT OCCURRED

locations where sex iact occurs purple-01.jpg
  • 77-81% of sex trafficking victims met the buyer at hotel 1,2

  • 41-59% met buyer at private residence 1,2

  • 10-53% met in buyers’ car 1,2

  • 19% met buyer at strip club 1

  • 15% met buyer at casino 1

  • 2-6% met buyer at massage parlor 1,2

  • 4-6% met buyer at brothel 1,2

  1. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [In 2018, researchers interviewed 260 underage sex trafficking survivors who were helped at agencies across the U.S. and found the most common places and ways they were forced to sell sex or sexual simulation: 81% (n=198) met the buyers at hotels; 59% (n=145) met buyers in houses; 53% (n=129) met buyers in cars. Less common venues: strip clubs (19%; n=48), casinos (15%; n=38), massage parlors (6%; n=16), and brothels (6%; n=15]. Respondents gave many other types of locations where they would meet buyers, including: truck stops/trucks, motorcycle events, stores, restaurants, bars, businesses, virtual (watching online), church basements, universities, parks, alleys, train stations, abandoned buildings, campgrounds, members-only groups, malls, hunting and fishing camps]

  2. Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Based on the 322 active criminal sex trafficking cases in 2020 in which there was a completed sex act, the majority — 77% (248) — occurred at a hotel. Other locations: Private residences (41%, 132); in vehicles (10%, 31); at brothels (4%, 12); at strip clubs (2%, 8), at truck stops (2%, 5), on the street or in alleyways (2%, 5), at spas or massage parlors (2%, 5), in fields (1%, 4), and at bars, clubs, or cantinas (1%, 4) the following venues were mentioned less than 1% of the time, respectively: casinos (2), migrant worker camps (2), farms (2), church (1), Indian reservation (1), storage unit (1), and short-term rental, such as an Airbnb (1)]

ABOUT HOTELS 1

The major hotel chains implicated most frequently in active federal sex trafficking cases are:

  1. Motel 6

  2. Super 8 Motel

  3. Days Inn

  4. Red Roof Inn

  5. La Quinta

 

Together, these five hotels are where 34% of all hotel-based trafficking occurred in 2020, according to federal trafficking reports.

Trafficking victims are sometimes kept and sold at hotels with the full knowledge of the hotel staff. This is why in 2020, 72 hotels were sued in civil court by trafficking survivors.

 

This is a large decrease from the number of hotels sued in 2019, which saw 117 hotels involved in sex trafficking civil cases. In those cases, 56% of the claims are still pending, while 44% have been dismissed.

 

Of the dismissed cases, 37% were dismissed by the courts and 63% were voluntarily withdrawn by the plaintiffs, which often indicates a settlement has been reached.

Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute

NUMBER OF BUYERS

  • 10 — Average number of buyers per day 2

  • 26% — 1-3 buyers per day 1

  • 31% — 4-7 buyers per day 1

  • 23% — 8-10 buyers per day 1

  • 20% — More than 10 buyers per day 1

    • Advertising online, compared to working on the street or a truck stop, is associated with an increased number of buyers per day 1

  1. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn

  2. Raphael, J., Reichert, A., and Powers, M. “Pimp Control and Violence: Domestic Sex Trafficking of Chicago Women and Girls.” Women and Criminal Justice. 2010. 20:1-2, 89-104 [Between July and November 2007, interviewers talked with 100 women between 16 and 25 selling sex in Chicago who reported they were controlled by a trafficker and found the average to be 10 buyers per day]

LIFE WHILE “IN THE LIFE”

Day-to-day while “in the life”

  • 90% do not to call sex trafficker a “pimp;” he is her “boyfriend,” “daddy,” or her “man” 5,6

  • 70-84% used drugs or alcohol 1,3

  • 27-28% are forced to use drugs 1,2

  • 71% of adult victims had at least one pregnancy 1

    • 45% had pregnancy resulting in miscarriage 1

    • 55% had an abortion 1

    • 28% of abortions were forced 1

  • 7-11% of underage victims reported at least one pregnancy 3,4

  • 57-75% of underage victims reported an incidence of self-harm in the last year 4

  • 42-57% of victims attempted suicide in the last year 1,5

  • 26% of underage victims live with trafficker 4

  • 53-67% contracted an STD/STI while trafficked 1,3

    • 39% had chlamydia 1,4

    • 27% had gonorrhea 1

  • 71% have poor dietary health, including severe weight loss 1

  • 35% malnutrition 1

  • 54% Dental problems 1

  • 43% tooth loss 1

  • 44% had urinary tract infections 1

Phone and online access 7

  • 74% of victims had access to a phone

  • 81% could access the Internet on their phone

  • 57% said trafficker purchased the cell phone for them

  • 53% said trafficker monitored their phone use and call history

  • 60% of victims said trafficker did not monitor their Internet use

  • 86% of victims had their own social media accounts in their own names

    • “Victims are using social media to communicate with family, friends, traffickers, and buyers”

    • “The most popular social media websites accessed by victims were Facebook, Craigslist, Instagram, and Google”

  1. Lederer, L., and Wetzel, C. “The health consequences of sex trafficking and their implications for identifying victims in healthcare facilities.” 2014. Annals of Health Law. 23:61–91. [Conducted a focus group of 107 formerly trafficked women in “cities across the U.S.” 42% had attempted suicide while trafficked]

  2. Farley, M., et al “Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.” 2011. A project of Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education [Researchers interviewed 105 Native women who were prostituting in Minneapolis, Duluth and Bemidji, MN]

  3. Varma, S., et al. “Characteristics of child commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking victims presenting for medical care in the United States.” 2015. Child Abuse & Neglect. 44:98-105 [The study compared sexually abused/assaulted adolescents to DMST youth, and the results showed 69.6% had history of drug use and 52.6% of DMST victims had history of STI; 10.%% have history of pregnancy]

  4. Edinburgh, L., Pape-Blabolil, J., Harpin, S., and Saewyc, E. “Assessing exploitation experiences of girls and boys seen at a Child Advocacy Center.” 2015. Child Abuse & Neglect 46;47–59 [Researchers looked at the forensic interviews of 62 sexually exploited — aka trafficked — runaway adolescents (7 boys and 55 girls), age 12–17 years old, who were referred to a Child Advocacy Center for assessment. Findings: 53.4% live with at least one parent; 32.2% are homeless; 26.2% live with trafficker; 28.6% of boys and 38.5% of girls had positive chlamydia screen; 7.4% of girls were pregnant at time of exam; 57.1% of boys and 74.5% of girls had incidence of self-harm in the last year; 57.1% of boys and 47.1% of girls attempted suicide in the last year]

  5. Raphael, J., Reichert, A., and Powers, M. “Pimp Control and Violence: Domestic Sex Trafficking of Chicago Women and Girls.” Women and Criminal Justice. 2010. 20:1-2, 89-104 [Conducted interviews of 100 women controlled by pimp sex traffickers in Chicago]

  6. Raphael, J. & Ashley, J. “Domestic Sex Trafficking of Chicago Women and Girls.” 2008. A Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center, DePaul University College of Law, and the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. [Researchers interviewed 100 young women up to the age of 25 who were under the control of a pimp/trafficker at the time of the survey in 2007.]

  7. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn

“IN THE LIFE” WHILE IN SCHOOL

“A teacher would have been the most helpful to either give me the number [of a helpline] or call for me.” 1

According to 260 underage sex trafficking survivors: 1

  • 55% of underage victims were in school at least part of the time while trafficked

  • 26% of underage victims said they were in school some of the time

  • 15% of underage victims said most of the time

  • 14% of underage victims said the entire time

 

According to 62 trafficked youths (7 boys and 55 girls): 2

  • 21.6% of girls and 0% of boys never missed school in the past year

  • 33.3% of girls and 0% of boys missed 1-10 days of school

  • 45.1% of girls and 100% of boys missed more than 10 days of school

  1. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [In 2018, researchers interviewed 260 underage sex trafficking survivors who were helped at agencies across the U.S. and found 55% (n=144) were in school while trafficked, for at least part of the time. 26% (65) said they were in school some of the time they were in the life; 15% (38) said most of the time; 14% (35) said the entire time they were in the life they were also in school]

  2. Edinburgh, L., Pape-Blabolil, J., Harpin, S., and Saewyc, E. “Assessing exploitation experiences of girls and boys seen at a Child Advocacy Center.” 2015. Child Abuse & Neglect 46;47–59 [Researchers looked at the forensic interviews of 62 sexually exploited — aka trafficked — runaway adolescents, age 12–17 years old, who were referred to a Child Advocacy Center for assessment. Findings: 21.6% of girls never missed school (self-reported) in the past year; 33.3% of girls missed 1-10 days of school; 45.1% of girls and 100% of boys missed more than 10 days of school]

MEDICAL CONCERNS

  • 88% of victims visited a medical provider while trafficked 3

  • 75% of underage victims in New York City reported seeking medical care within the past six months 4

  • 46% of underage victims had been to a medical provider within the past two months 2

 

The most common reasons for visiting a health care provider included:

  • 43% general check-up 4

  • 42% went to ER after physical abuse by customer or trafficker 1

  • 34% testing for sexually transmitted infections 4

  • 21% testing for HIV 4

  • 30% had vaginal discharge 2

Behavior health problems reported by victims

  • 99% have memory problems, insomnia, poor concentration, headache 3

  • 89% have depression 3,5

  • 42% attempted suicide 3

  • 82% Feelings of guilt, shame 3

  • 81% Low self-esteem 3,5

  • 76% Anxiety 3,5

  • 74% have nightmares, flashbacks 3

  1. Williamson, C., Perdue, T., Belton, L., & Burns, O. “Domestic Sex Trafficking in Ohio.” 2012. Ohio Human Trafficking Commission Final Report. [In a sample of 115 individuals who became involved in the sex trade in Ohio while under the age of 18, 42% of victims had been to the ER after being physically abused by a customer or trafficker]

  2. Varma, S., et al. “Characteristics of child commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking victims presenting for medical care in the United States.” 2015. Child Abuse & Neglect. 44:98-105 [The study compared sexually abused/assaulted adolescents to DMST youth, and the results showed 46% of DMST victims had been to a medical provider within the past 2 months]

  3. Lederer, L., and Wetzel, C. “The health consequences of sex trafficking and their implications for identifying victims in healthcare facilities.” 2014. Annals of Health Law. 23:61–91. [Conducted a focus group of 107 women controlled in the past by a sex trafficker in “cities across the U.S.” 88% of victims had visited a medical provider during their period of exploitation.]

  4. Curtis, R., Terry, K., Dank, M., Dombrowski, K., & Khan, B. “The commercial sexual exploitation of children in New York City: Volume 1: The CSEC population in New York City: Size, characteristics and needs.” 2008. New York: US Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice. [75% of underage victims in New York City reported seeking medical care within the past 6 months. The most common reasons for visiting a health care provider included a general check-up (42.6%) testing for sexually transmitted infections (34.1%); and testing for HIV (20.9%).]

  5. Gerassi, L.B., Nichols, A.J., and Goldberg, K.K. “Examining Commonly Reported Sex Trafficking Indicators From Practitioners’ Perspectives: Findings From a Pilot Study.” 2018. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. [Researchers did a survey of 86 social service providers who said trafficking victims “often” exhibit the following: two or more symptoms of depression; low self-esteem, and anxiety]

GETTING HELP

  • 58% of victims said they wanted help escaping the life 1

  • 67% of victims said they never saw a hotline number they could call for help 1

  • 74% of victims said they would have wanted to know about a helpline number 1

 

Of those that did see or hear about a helpline, the most common ways for them to learn about the number was1

  • For someone to tell them about it

  • See it online

  • See it posted on a billboard

    • Very few saw it posted at a hotel, truck stop or bar

  1. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [Of 252 DMST victims, 145 (58%) said they wanted help escaping the life. 67% (n=168) said they never saw a helpline number they could call for help, even though 74% (n=185) stated that they would have wanted to receive a helpline number. Of those that did see or hear about a helpline (83), the most common ways for them to see or hear about the number was for someone to tell them about it (n=53), to see it online (n=24), or posted on a billboard (n=18). A few said that they saw it posted in a hotel (n=6), at a truck stop (n=7), or at a bar (n=8).]