How Do You Know if You are Being Sex Trafficked?
Maybe you already know, or maybe you’re on the brink of something you fear is about to get out of control. Either way, what you need to know is that YOU are not too far gone. Even if hoping things would change is what got you where you are; even if you have done things that convince you that you’ll never have the life you wanted; even if you think your worth is defined by the dollar amount someone puts on the table – true hope is not lost.
You might be wondering how you got into this position. Remember, abusers and sex traffickers are pros at what they do, usually operating in plain sight. They are quite patient, also. They slowly strip you of your power, your independence, even your identity without you recognizing it. There are warning signs, though. If any of these resonate with you – if your situation looks like this – then we’re here to help you break free.
Have You Been Targeted?
Ask Yourself These Questions.
Maybe not all of these are true for you, but even if two or three are, you could be at risk of being sex trafficked1.
- Are you required to ask permission for physical necessities or medical care?
- Are you able to come and go as you please? Are there locks on your doors and windows? Are you moved around a lot?
- Are you allowed to answer questions for yourself?
- Can you freely talk to and visit your friends and family?
- Has anyone ever threatened your family?
- Has your identification or documentation been taken away?
- Do you control your own money?
- Are you regularly abused or threatened?
- Are you forced to have sex or perform sex acts?
- Is your phone tracked or are you constantly watched?
The Grooming Process2
Most sex traffickers understand the vulnerabilities of their victims, whether it’s their youth and innocence, their broken family, former physical or sexual abuse, need for money, low self-esteem, or other triggers that make them open to attention and affection. Taking advantage of this vulnerability, they use the following techniques of psychological manipulation to draw in their victims.
- Make a Connection
Traffickers often use social media, chat rooms or gaming platforms to target victims. Be aware that sometimes they use other victims, usually women, to scout for new victims, form friendships and act as the groomer. Some particularly vulnerable targets include runaways, homeless teens or young adults, those from the foster care or juvenile justice system, migrant workers, and girls in poverty. By striking up friendly conversations, groomers make themselves familiar in preparation for the next stage.
- Gain Trust
Slow and steady wins the race for the trafficker. Over the course of weeks or even months, he (or she) stays in contact, shows up and becomes your friend. They appear casual but slowly gain your trust by showing “genuine” interest and making you feel special. They may make you feel included in their inner circle, tell you secrets, offer to protect you, and make you feel that they understand you better than anyone else. It’s easy not to realize what is happening in this stage because it seems so normal.
- Fill a Need to Gain Dependency
As they get to know you, traffickers will use information they’ve gathered about you to identify and fill a need in your life. They may shower you with gifts, take you on dates, or make you their girlfriend. Or they may introduce you to a “great guy” who starts to do those things. A sexual relationship often comes into play, and they might have you watch pornography with them. They may offer to help meet a financial need, offer you a job or a place to stay. Eventually they may offer you alcohol or drugs. All of this is their method of slowly gaining control over you and making you dependent on them. They have given you something that makes you indebted to them, and soon they will come to “collect.”
- Begin Isolation
As you become more and more dependent on the trafficker, he or she will start to draw you away from your family and friends, often under the guise of jealousy or saying that you don’t really love them if you want to be with your friends instead of them. They may not let you do things alone anymore. They may also limit use of technology and escalate use of alcohol or drugs. They make this gradual manipulation seem normal and make you feel you are wrong if you question the increased isolation.
- Maintain Control
Suddenly this person who has convinced you of their love starts to morph into a different person. They may start abusing you, physically and/or sexually. They may withdraw their love and make you feel you are “damaged goods” that no one else would want. They may threaten you or your family, make you dependent on drugs, and/or take away your ID, phone, and money. They may even track your every move by tracing your phone. You are no longer allowed to have any life apart from them. And playing on your feelings of fear, shame and guilt, they now come to collect for all they’ve done for you, usually by forcing you to have sex with other men for money.
Can You Break Free?
Maybe this describes you, but you feel trapped. You may even feel like this is your own fault and that you should have seen it coming - that it’s too late to get out. IT’S NOT!
“For this to make sense in your life you need to reason it away,” says Shannon Forsythe, co-founder of Run2Rescue. “At least you are making money for it, you think. Or at least you have a roof over your head and someone who is ‘taking care of you.’ In some ways it makes you feel like you gained back control. Yet deep inside you know it’s only a matter of time before this life utterly consumes you. I’m here to tell you that getting your life back is possible. Believe it; don’t give up!” Shannon has worked with more than 250 girls who were formerly trafficked through Run2Rescue, a national organization whose goal is to reach, rescue and restore victims of sex trafficking.
Steps to Freedom3
If you realize that you are being sex trafficked or abused, and if you are ready to take steps to break free, here are steps you can take.
- Alert someone that you trust. Keep in mind that your phone may be tracked, so using someone else’s phone or seeking help in person may be necessary. This may be difficult and require some planning to ensure your safety. Reaching out from a public place is best. Whether you call 911, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 888-373-7888, text "BeFree" to 233733; or contact an organization like Run2Rescue or Refuge for Women, there are people who can help.Pregnancy resource centers are another place to get confidential and professional assistance; they have protocols in place to get you the help you need without putting you in further danger. “Pregnancy centers can help by referring [abused or trafficked] women to trusted sources that provide additional help they may need, such as law enforcement or mental health professionals,” says NIFLA President Thomas Glessner. “What women in those kinds of situations need most is a trusted friend and a safe haven. Pregnancy centers excel at providing that kind of support.”
- If you cannot contact friends or family, alert a stranger by writing “Help” on a paper with identifying information that you can slip to them quietly when you are out in public at a store, restaurant or park.
- Go beyond just getting out. After you have gotten to safety and had time to get settled, find the help you need to heal mentally and emotionally from the guilt, shame, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders that often accompany sex trafficking4. Organizations like Run2Rescue and Refuge for Women have trained professionals who are able to not only help you escape, but also to set you on the path to recovery and wholeness.
No Looking Back
Shannon Forsythe stresses, “The most important thing is to MOVE – take the first step towards positive change and don’t look back. Then remember that you can’t find your way back on your own. You need a healthy support network. So, choose a program that will help you get your life back by working through your trauma, breaking cycles that have been destructive to your success, and re-learning how to do life in a world that you are no longer familiar with. Starting over is hard, but you won’t regret it!”
If you believe you are being abused or trafficked, New Beginnings Pregnancy Help Center has trained professionals who can assess your situation to get immediate help or devise a plan for breaking free without compromising your safety. If you are able to call without detection, we encourage you to do so at ________. If you can visit New Beginnings in person, we have safe ways to identify if you are in need.
It’s time to take your life back – we can help!
1 Indicators of Human Trafficking. (2021, June 28). Department of Homeland Security. https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/indicators-human-trafficking
2 DeliverFund. (2021, May 24). Know the Signs of Human Trafficking. DeliverFund.Org. https://deliverfund.org/the-human-trafficking-problem-in-america/know-the-signs/
3 Sorter, A. (2021, April 29). Expert Advice on Preventing and Escaping From Human Trafficking. Safety.Com. https://www.safety.com/family/kids/experts-advice-for-human-trafficking-victims-to-escape/
4 rtc_entire_final_oct2019.pdf | Department of Justice. (2018). U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.justice.gov/ovw/page/file/1292636/