The trafficking of minors in the United States is becoming more and more prevalent. The statistics are scary, and more children are becoming at risk every day. With this in mind, we want you to be equipped to know what warning signs to look for so that you can be diligent in protecting the children in your life.
Potential Signs of Exploitation
The overall sign to look for is if a child is acting out of the norm. People who know the child are going to be the best at catching this. The key is not to ignore something that seems to be “off” with the child.
Some potential warning signs include:
- Staying out most of the night
Many times when a victim has been coerced into trafficking, they will still be living at home while they are being exploited. If this is happening, a child may consistently find excuses to stay out all or most of the night (staying at a friends, etc.)
- They could be overly compliant
When a child is being victimized or exploited, they will often use compliance as a defense mechanism to avoid punishment by their abusers. Constantly being in this mode of self defense can become habitual and sometimes carry over into their everyday life.
- They could be short fused and or hostile
On the other side of coin from overly compliant is anger and hostility. When a child is being victimized, they are unable to express their anger over what is being done to them. This anger will often come out during their everyday life in ways that seem inappropriate or unwarranted.
- Tired all the time
Many victims will be forced by the slaveholders to continue living their normal lives while they are being trafficked. This while being up all or most of the night, and still going to school and maintaining their day-to-day schedules during the day.
- Distance in their attitude
The victimization that occurs when a child is trafficked is so extreme that it can cause the child to become emotionally numb. This can present as being distant or unengaged.
- Undisclosed tattoos
Tattoos are often used by slaveholders or traffickers as a type of “branding” to indicate that the victim is their “property.” If a child has tattoos they are attempting to hide, especially if they are of a man’s name, it can be a serious sign that the child’s welfare should be looked into.
- An extra or new phone and refusing access to it
Slaveholders will often provide a cell phone in order to keep their communications from being tracked. Having 2 phones is a big sign!
- Dressing differently
This is often just a sign of being a teenager. However, if they are dressing more provocatively than normal or there is a combination of this and other signs, it could be a sign that is worth looking into.
- More makeup than normal
Similarly to dressing differently, this may not be a warning sign on its own. But makeup is a common “gift” that slaveholders will give to victims. Victims may also use makeup to hide bruises or even tattoos.
- Secretive activities and/or friends
This is another sign that, taken on its own, could be attributed to normal teenage behavior. However, if the secretiveness is extreme or is being combined with other warning signs, it could be an indication that there is a problem.
Methods of Recruitment
This is the most aggressive method. Slaveholders will kidnap their victims and will use threats and violence to follow their directions. Although it still happens, this is one of the less common methods in the US.
This method is usually carried out by a “recruiter” who will pretend to be an interested boyfriend. We have seen recruiters play this role and “date” a victim as long as 8 months before recruitment is completed and the girl realizes she has been “groomed”.
“Professionals” will front as a modeling agency or some other profession that looks legitimate. In this method they will use their front lure their victims and put them into a compromising position.