VICTIM SELECTION STAGE

At some point every trafficker makes a decision on whom they will attempt to traffic.

VICTIM’S INITIAL RELATIONSHIP TO TRAFFICKER

A trafficker’s relationship to the victim before the trafficking starts can be broken down into three categories: 1

  1. Family member

  2. Person who is part of victim’s social network, such as an on-going boyfriend, friend or acquaintance

  3. Stranger who intends to become victim’s “boyfriend” or “friend”

Note: Overall, getting at the data about pre-existing relationships between traffickers and victims before the first sale of sex is problematic. Several researchers list the relationship of the trafficker to the victim as “boyfriend” or “friend” without specifying if those traffickers became the boyfriend or friend with the intent of making the victim sell sex. Here, we included only those studies that clearly stated the pre-trafficking relationship.

  1. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [Survey of 260 DMST survivors in helped at agencies across U.S., victims were asked “how they met their trafficker.” 50% said trafficker was a stranger to them; 33% said trafficker was part of their social network; 17% said trafficker was a family member]

  2. Kennedy, M., et al. “Routes of Recruitment: Pimps’ techniques and other circumstances that lead to street prostitution.” 2007. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. 15:2, 1-19 [Researchers conducted interviews of 32 women controlled currently or in the past by a pimp sex trafficker in British Columbia, Canada. 65% of the victims said their trafficker was initially a stranger]

  3. Gragg, F., Petta, I., Bernstein, H., Eisen, K., & Quinn, L. “New York Prevalence Study of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children.” 2007. A WESTAT Report prepared for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. [In a survey of seven upstate counties and four New York City boroughs’ law enforcement agencies, researchers looked at surveyed a sample of seven upstate counties and four New York City boroughs' law enforcement agencies]

  4. Moore, J, et al. “ Trafficking experiences and psychosocial features of domestic minor sex trafficking victims.” 2017. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. [Study looked at medical records of 25 DMST patients from 2013-2015; 52% of their traffickers were strangers]

THE FAMILY TRAFFICKER

16-17% of traffickers are family members 1,2

In cases of trafficking involving family members, the mother is the main trafficker 65-67% of the time. 3,4

 

Even in these situations, at some point, she will make a decision to traffic her child. For more on this, you can go to the Family Trafficking page.

THE FRIEND TRAFFICKER

33% of traffickers begin as part of victim’s social network 1

In a third of cases, a trafficker starts off as an acquaintance, friend or boyfriend who didn’t initially become close to the victim with the intention of trafficking them. The trafficker in this situation will get Victim Selection Stage often begins as an idea that the friend brings up to the victim, but this is still a choice the trafficker makes. And what may start out a business arrangement, with the victim in full agreement to sell sex, but over time, it becomes about dominance and control.

THE STRANGER TRAFFICKER

50-65% of traffickers begin as strangers 1,2,3

The stranger trafficker specifically seeks out a victim they do not know for the purpose of becoming close to them and using their relationship to make them sell sex.

These traffickers start with the Victim Selection Stage, hunting for their preferred type of victim by frequenting places where their victim of choice hangs out. For instance, if the trafficker prefers to meet victims in-person and targets runaway teens, they will frequent locations such as teen homeless shelters, bus stations or the mall. Or if they operate online, they will look for victims on Instagram or Facebook. Since the trafficker already knows the type of victim they are looking for, they will have already formulated the exact manipulation they will use on the victim once they meet.

The moment the trafficker approaches the victim and makes contact, that’s when the Victim Selection Stage ends and the Grooming Stage — and the manipulation — begins.

The statistics on the remainder of this page refer to Stranger Traffickers unless otherwise noted

TRAFFICKERS EXPLAIN HOW THEY FIND VICTIMS

"Any player can tell you when a girl has the look of desperation that you know she needs attention or love. It’s something that you start to have a sixth sense about.”

“What would you look for? Broken bones, unhappy with parents, abused by some sucker.”

“We eat, drink and sleep thinking of ways to trick young girls into doing what we want them to do.”

“I would tell them I was an agent. I would say I designed clothes. I even told them I sang with certain bands and managed different people.”

“I wanted very pretty girls and young because they took orders better.”

“I liked to get my best girls from another state and bring them back to where they knew no one and I was their only friend and focus. I found them in many places, but mostly from running into them on the street or at a bar or restaurant.”

Raphael, J. and Myers-Powell, B. “From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex- pimps in Chicago.” Report from the Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Canter of DePaul University College of Law. 2010. [Conducted surveys of 25 former sex traffickers in Chicago]

FINDING A VICTIM: WHERE TRAFFICKERS START

Stranger traffickers look for two general types of victims:

  1. A younger person — often underage — who desperate for love and attention

    • 75% of traffickers say they specifically target this kind of victim

  2. A woman already in the commercial sex industry — such an exotic dancer — who is often already addicted to substances since she can be more easily controlled

  1. Roe-Sepowitz et al. The Sexual Exploitation of Girls in the United States: The Role of Female Pimps Journal of Interpersonal Violence 2015, Vol. 30(16) 2814–2830

GENDER AND AGE OF VICTIMS

AGE WHEN VICTIM MET THEIR TRAFFICKER

  • 15-17 — Average age of those trafficked by non-family member 1,2,3,4,6

  • 13 — Average age of those trafficked by family member 2

    • 80% of victims who were 10 years old or younger when forced into the life were trafficked by a family member 5

AGE WHEN VICTIM ENCOUNTERED LAW ENFORCEMENT

In pending federal trafficking criminal cases in 2020, they found the victim demographics broke down as follows: 7

  • 50% were girls under age 18

  • 44% were women

  • 3% were men

  • 3% were boys under age 18

  1. Baird, K., McDonald, K. P., & Connolly, J. “Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in a Southern Ontario Region: Police File Review Exploring Victim Characteristics, Trafficking Experiences, and the Intersection With Child Welfare.” 2019. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 52(1), 8–17. [The study looked at 154 police cases in Toronto, Canada, from 2008-2016 involving female trafficking victims who first met trafficker on average at age 16.77]

  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 [Study looked at 79 females DMST who received services in two Florida cities between 2007- 2012 and found most victims first met non-relative trafficker at age 15]

  3. Bouché, V. “A Report on the Use of Technology to Recruit, Groom and Sell Domestic Minor Sex trafficking Victims.” 2015. Thorn [Did surveys with 77 survivors of sex trafficking. Age when first trafficked: 16]

  4. Moore, J, et al. “ Trafficking experiences and psychosocial features of domestic minor sex trafficking victims.” 2017. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. [Study looked at medical records of 25 DMST patients from 2013-2015 and found the average age at trafficking was 15.4 years old]

  5. 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]

  6. Carpenter, A. C. & Gates, J. “The Nature and Extent of Gang Involvement in Sex Trafficking in San Diego County.” 2016. Submitted to U.S. Department of Justice [Researchers interviewed 302 adult victims of trafficking who were in a prostitution first-time offender program, and found the average age of entry into prostitution for adults was 17.8 while among minors, the average age of entry into prostitution was 14.5. Researchers combined these into an overall average age of entry of 16.1 years old.]

  7. , K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Data from 544 “active” sex trafficking cases in 2020 that are being prosecuted in federal court. The report notes that its “findings are not a prevalence estimate of human trafficking in the United States but instead serve as an objective summary of what the federal criminal justice system has done to address trafficking.”]

  8. Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Data from 544 “active” sex trafficking cases in 2020 that are being prosecuted in federal court. The report notes that its “findings are not a prevalence estimate of human trafficking in the United States but instead serve as an objective summary of what the federal criminal justice system has done to address trafficking.”]

IN-PERSON OR ONLINE

HOW VICTIM FIRST MET STRANGER TRAFFICKER

  • 45-59% first met their trafficker face-to-face 1,2,3

  • 41-55% first met their trafficker online 1,2,3

    • “Online” means the victim met their trafficker for the first time via text, website or app

  1. Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. Vol. 28(6) 491–511 [Study looked at 79 females DMST who received services in two Florida cities between 2007- 2012 and found 56% were recruited in face-to-face interactions, while 44% met online]

  2. 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., “45% of those entering the life in 2015 reported meeting their trafficker face to face. The remaining 55% reported use of text, website, or app.” Overall, 84% of victims met their trafficker in person but this includes data from victims who entered the life prior to more mainstream use of the Internet before 2015. That is why we are using the 2015 numbers here]

  3. Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Based on the 602 victims identified in active federal criminal sex trafficking cases in 2020 where details of recruitment were known, 41% met their trafficker online and 59% met them in person]

IN-PERSON: WHERE VICTIM FIRST MET TRAFFICKER

The most common locations where victim's first meeting with trafficker was face to face were, in descending order of likelihood:

  • Street 1,3,4,6

  • Store or mall 1,3,4,6

  • Party or club 1,3,4,6

  • Bus stop 1,3,4,6

  • Shelter 1,3,6

  • School 1,3,6

  • While at work 1,3,4

    • 2% said trafficker was their employer 2

  • Drug dealer 2

  1. Bouché, V. "Survivor Insights: The Role of Technology in Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking." 2018. A report for Thorn [Survey of 260 DMST survivors in helped at agencies across U.S., According to researchers, victims “indicated that they were at a bus station, walking down the street, on the track, or at a party when the trafficker started talking to them.”]

  2. Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. 28(6) 491–511  [Of 79 DMST females who received social services from 2007- 2012 in Florida, 3% said their trafficker was their drug dealer and 2% said trafficker was their employer]

  3. Baird, K., and Connolly, J. “Recruitment and Entrapment Pathways of Minors into Sex Trafficking in Canada and the United States: A Systematic Review.” 2021. Trauma, Violence and Abuse. [Reviewed 23 studies on the recruitment or pathways into sex trafficking for minors trafficked within the US and Canada]

  4. 1 Baird, K., McDonald, K. P., & Connolly, J. “Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in a Southern Ontario Region: Police File Review Exploring Victim Characteristics, Trafficking Experiences, and the Intersection With Child Welfare.” 2019. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 52(1), 8–17. [The study looked at 154 police cases in Toronto, Canada, from 2008-2016 involving trafficking victims. Victims said their trafficker first approached them at bus stop, mall, on the street or during “nightlife”]

  5. Moore, J, et al. “ Trafficking experiences and psychosocial features of domestic minor sex trafficking victims.” 2017. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. [Study looked at medical records of 25 DMST patients from 2013-2015; 52% of their traffickers were strangers]

  6. Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Data from 544 “active” sex trafficking cases in 2020 that were prosecuted in federal court. Of 602 victims whose details of recruitment were known, 43 victims met their trafficker on the street; 10 met at stores; 7 in a cult; 7 at parties; 6 at bus stops; 3 at shelters; 3 at schools, 1 at a bar; and 1 at a beach.]

ONLINE: WHERE VICTIM FIRST MET TRAFFICKER

Places where victims reported meeting traffickers online, in descending order of likelihood:

  • Facebook 1,2,3

    • 65% of underage victims recruited on social media were recruited through Facebook 3

    • 36% of adults victims recruited on social media were recruited through Facebook 3

  • Instagram 2,3

  • Snapchat 2,3

  • WeChat 3

  • Tinder 2

  • Kik 2

  • Whisper 2

  • Craigslist 1,2

  • Online multiplayer video games 2

  1. Bouché, V. “A Report on the Use of Technology to Recruit, Groom and Sell Domestic Minor Sex trafficking Victims.” 2015. Thorn [Did surveys with 77 survivors of sex trafficking and found 81% first met their trafficker face to face and only 14% met them online however most of the victims were trafficked around 7 years prior to the study commencing in 2012 when use of the Internet was significantly different.]

  2. Baird, K., and Connolly, J. “Recruitment and Entrapment Pathways of Minors into Sex Trafficking in Canada and the United States: A Systematic Review.” 2021. Trauma, Violence and Abuse. [Reviewed 23 studies on the recruitment or pathways into sex trafficking for minors trafficked within the US and Canada]

  3. Feehs, K., & Currier, A. “Federal Human Trafficking Report 2020.” Washington D.C.: The Human Trafficking Institute [Data from “active” sex trafficking cases in 2020 that were prosecuted in federal court found that of victims “recruited” online, 65% of underage victims were “recruited” on Facebook (68); 14% Instagram (15); and 8% Snapchat (8). For adults, 43% of victims were “recruited” on WeChat; 36% Facebook (10); and 7% Instagram (2)]

Graph of where traffickers met victims online-01.jpg

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

MAIN TRAFFICKING INDICATORS IN MINORS

The researchers overwhelmingly agree that the biggest indicators that a child may become a underage trafficking victim are:

  1. Childhood maltreatment especially sexual abuse

  2. Running away

  3. Involvement with child welfare system and/or foster care

HOW INDICATORS CREATE A VICTIM

One expert explained how two of the indicators — maltreatment and running away — work to make the teen more susceptible to trafficking and how they are related:

“Child abuse (especially sexual abuse) … could potentially effect an individual in numerous ways: damage a child’s coping skills and mental health, harm their relationship with their caregivers, negatively affect their home life, and/or motivate dysfunctional, criminal, or harm-seeking behavior as adolescents.

Similarly, running away from home (or being thrown away) creates instability and significant material need in the life of a minor. Efforts to meet those needs can lead them to engage in survival sex or to become dependent on third-party exploiters who lead them to and possibly trap them in underage sex work.

Given that many children who run away also come from an abusive home, these major risk factors seem to be correlated and connected.”

  1. Franchino-Olsen, H., et al. “Adolescent Experiences of Violence Victimizations Among Minors Who Exchange Sex/Experience Minor Sex Trafficking.” 2021. Journal of Interpersonal Violence

RISK FACTORS FOR TRAFFICKING VICTIMS

  • 75-88% experienced childhood maltreatment 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,10,11,12,13,16

  • Most common forms of maltreatment:

    • 50-86% reported sexual abuse 4,7

    • 67% reported neglect 1

    • 42-66% reported emotional abuse 1

    • 44-45% reported physical abuse 5,7

  • 60-81% had runaway 3,5,7,17

    • 14% of all children will run away from home before the age of 18 8

    • 17% of 26,500 runaways reported in 2020 to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely victims of child sex trafficking 9

  • 28-47% had been involved with child protective services 1,2,6,7

  • 28-50% had been placed in foster care or with relatives outside other than their parents 6,7,16,17

  • 78-92% reported using substances 1,2,5,7,14

    • 59-68% abusing alcohol 1,7

    • 60-79% using drugs 1,7,14

  • 75% had involvement with law enforcement 5

  • 48% reported some form of self-harm, such as cutting or scarification (e.g. scratching, etching, burning, branding) 14

  • 39-41% suicidal ideation or attempt 8,14

  1. Baird, K., McDonald, K. P., & Connolly, J. “Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in a Southern Ontario Region: Police File Review Exploring Victim Characteristics, Trafficking Experiences, and the Intersection With Child Welfare.” 2020. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science/Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 52(1), 8–17. [Of 154 cases police cases in Toronto, Canada, involving female trafficking victims, 74.6% experienced childhood maltreatment; most commonly neglect (67%) and emotional abuse (65.8%); 34% had been involved with child protective services; 78% reported using substances, with 68.4% using alcohol and 74.9% using drugs.]

  2. Moore, J, et al. “ Trafficking experiences and psychosocial features of domestic minor sex trafficking victims.” 2017. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. [Study looked at medical records of 25 DMST patients from 2013-2015; 92% reported using alcohol or substance uses; 28% were placed in a group home or child protective services]

  3. Reid, J. “Entrapment and Enmeshment Schemes Used by Sex Traffickers.” 2016. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. 28(6) 491–511 [Of 79 DMST females who received social services from 2007-2012 in Florida, 60% had history of runaway behavior and 88% reported child maltreatment.]

  4. Landers, M., et al. “Baseline characteristics of dependent youth who have been commercially sexually exploited: Findings from a specialized treatment program.” 2017. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 26, 692–709. [Of 87 DMST youth in a specialized treatment program in Miami-Dade County, Florida, 86% had previous sexual abuse and other traumatic experiences prior to exploitation.]

  5. 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 DMST victims had high rates of prior STIs (53%); physical abuse (44%); history of violence with sex (31%), drug/alcohol use (70%), multiple drug use (50%), history of running away from home (81%), prior involvement with child protective services (47%) and with law enforcement (75%).]

  6. Havlicek, J., Huston, S., Boughton, S., & Zhang, S. “Human trafficking of children in Illinois: Prevalence and characteristics.” 2016. Children and Youth Services Review. 69, 127–135. [Study looked at more than 400 children who were referred to the Department of Children and Family Services in Illinois for allegations of human trafficking and found that 61% had a prior investigation of child maltreatment and 28% had experience in out-of-home placement]

  7. Reid, J., et al. “No Youth Left Behind to Human Trafficking: Exploring Profiles of Risk.” 2018. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 89; 6, 704–715 [Of 913 adolescents in Florida who were arrested between 2007 and 2015 and determined to be trafficking victims 41.6% reported emotional abuse; 44.5 physical abuse; 49.5 sexual abuse; 50.4% foster care placement; 59.1% alcohol use; 79.2% drug use; 39% suicidal ideation]

  8. U.S. Congressional findings — Pub. L. 109–164, §2, Jan. 10, 2006, 119 Stat. 3558

  9. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children https://www.ecpatusa.org/statistics

  10. Choi, K. “Risk Factors for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in the United States: A Literature Review.” 2015. Journal of Forensic Nursing. 11;2 [Literature review looked at 30 studies to determine which risk factors — demographic, environmental, trauma, and behavioral health — were most indicative of future trafficking.  They determined that demographic factors were not important predictors, while childhood maltreatment trauma and running away from home were the most important]

  11. Franchino-Olsen, H., et al. “Adolescent Experiences of Violence Victimizations Among Minors Who Exchange Sex/Experience Minor Sex Trafficking.” 2021. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. [Of more than 12,000 middle- and high-school students who participated in the ADD Health Survey between 1994-1996, 60.87% of youth who reported “minor sex exchange” also reported having “any violence” in their lives.”]

  12. Gresson, J., et al. “Child welfare characteristics in a sample of youth involved in commercial sex: An exploratory study.” 2019. Child Abuse & Neglect. 94: 104038 [Of 98 homeless young adults, 46% were sex trafficked, with the sex trafficking victims differing from the  homeless group more likely to have been maltreated as children, more likely to have had family involvement with the child welfare system]

  13. Ulloa, E. “Prevalence and Correlates of Sex Exchange Among a Nationally Representative Sample of Adolescents and Young Adults.” 2016. Journal of Child Sex Abuse. 25(5): 524–537 [Looked at the results of ADD Health Survey done by 11,620 middle- and high-school students and found respondents who reported child sexual abuse were more likely to exchange sex than respondents who reported any other form of child abuse.]

  14. Middleton, J., et al. “Youth Experiences Survey (YES): Exploring the Scope and Complexity of Sex Trafficking in a Sample of Youth Experiencing Homelessness.” Journal of Social Service Research, 44:2, 141-157 [Study had 132 homeless youth — 12-25 years old — at eight agencies in Louisville, KY, and Southern Indiana complete a self- administered survey called the Youth Experiences Survey. Of those who reported sex trafficking 59.5% also reported drug use; 48.1% reported some form of self-harm, such as cutting or scarification (e.g. scratching, etching, burning, branding); 41.2% reported previous suicide attempt]

  15. 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., 41% of respondents reported they had been in foster care]

  16. Williamson, C., Perdue, T., Belton, L., & Burns, O. (2012). Domestic Sex Trafficking in Ohio. 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, 63% had run away from home more than once”]

  17. Murphy, L. T. “Labor and sex trafficking among homeless youth: A ten-city study full report.” 2016. Loyola University Modern Slavery Research Project. [In 2015-2016 researchers conducted interviews with 641 clients seeking services from Covenant Houses located in 10 major cities in the U.S. and Canada, and found 29% of trafficking victims had a history of involvement in the foster system]

WHO CAN RECOGNIZE AN ONLINE PREDATOR?

How do people go about recognizing an online predator? Are certain characteristics more common in people who are unable to recognize one?

That’s what one grad student wanted to know.

So she recruited 168 females, aged 13-25, who were at classes at California State University and had them take an online survey. They were asked the usual demographic questions such as age, race and ethnicity as well as some more personal details about drugs and alcohol. Next, they read vignettes, some of which used “predatory” language — taken directly from online criminal sexual cases — and some that did not.

For instance, one vignette stated, “Come down to Ben’s Pizza Shop for a bite to eat this Saturday and Sunday! All proceeds go to the Children’s Foundation. Donations also accepted.”

While another read, “I’m so sorry that you aren’t able to buy all the nice things that you deserve. If you come with me, I could get you whatever you want and take you anywhere. My business just took off and we’d have lots of money.”

The respondents were then asked how much they agreed with the following statements (using a four-point scale: 1 =Not at all, 2 = Somewhat, 3 = Very, 4 = Completely):

  • “How threatening do you think this person is?”

  • “How honest do you think this person is?”

  • “How likely are you to reply to this message?”

  • “How likely are you to ‘friend’ this person on a social network?”

  • “How likely are you to meet this person face-to-face?”

Their responses were then scored.

The survey answers gave a snapshot of online and offline behaviors that might be found in victims of predatory online contact.

The study found the following DID NOT increase the likelihood of online victimization:

  • Drug use

  • Alcohol use

  • Tobacco use

  • Dating violence

  • Sex behaviors

The study found the following DID increase the likelihood of online victimization:

Increased social media usage

  •  Contact with unknown online users and content

  • Online dating

  • Online gambling

  • Marijuana use

 

The study found the following SORT OF increased the likelihood of online victimization:

  • Low self-esteem

    • Higher levels of self-esteem reduce the individual likelihood of responding favorably to predatory communications on the Internet

Miller, A. “Human Sex Trafficking: Individual Risk Factors for Recruitment, Trafficking, and Victimization on the Internet.” 2014. Thesis research

PROTECTIVE FACTORS

Let’s say there is a teen who has all the risk factors seen in trafficking victims. They’ve run away from home multiple times. They were sexually abused. They’ve spent time in foster care. Is that teen destined to become a trafficking victim?

Of course, the answer is no.

But what behaviors protect an at-risk teen from that fate?

In 2012, a group of researchers attempted to answer that question by looking at the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescents. That study asked middle- and high-school students the same long series of questions at three different times between 1994 and 2002. During the first interviews in 1995-1995, the students were between ages 10 and 18, and during the third interview in 2001-2002 they were age 18-26.

This allowed researchers to see over time how the behavior of 12,240 teens had changed. For instance, they could look at teens who initially said they hadn’t exchanged sex for drugs or money — which meant they weren’t trafficking victims — and see if that answer had changed eight years later. They could also see which teens had not become trafficking victims despite having all the indicators.

What they found was that if a student agreed with the statement that they “felt happy at their school” they had a lower chance of selling sex even after controlling for demographics and risk factors.

Kaestle, C. “Selling and Buying Sex: A Longitudinal Study of Risk and Protective Factors in Adolescence.” 2012. Prevention Science.

JUVENILE DELINQUENT OR TRAFFICKED TEEN?

There is often little effort by law enforcement agencies to determine if an adult who is selling sex is actually a trafficking victim.

But that is not the case when it comes to minors.

Most law enforcement agencies actively try to help any underage trafficking victims they encounter. However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a minor trafficking victim and non-trafficked juvenile offender since both share similar backgrounds.

 

To try to answer this, one study looked at 67,305 adolescents in Florida who were arrested between 2007 and 2015 and completed a risk/needs assessment. Of those teens, 913 were later identified as human trafficking victims. The researchers then compared the two groups, finding some similarities between them as well as differences:

Reid, J., et al. “No Youth Left Behind to Human Trafficking: Exploring Profiles of Risk.” 2018. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Vol. 89, No. 6, 704–715

Similarities between underage victims and offender 2.jpg
Differences between underage victims and offenders.jpg