What Child Sex Trafficking Really Looks Like
Parents read headlines about child sex trafficking all over the world and think, “This is awful but it couldn’t possibly affect my family, could it?” But the sad reality is that any child could fall prey to trafficking. It’s terrifying to imagine your child being sexually exploited and even worse to think about the trauma they could live with for the rest of their lives, but it happens more than you think.
We spoke with Jim Cole, Supervisory Special Agent at Homeland Security Investigations, to find out the true definition of trafficking, and how predators find their victims, our children.
“People think trafficking is like the movie TAKEN, where the victim is tied up and duct taped and put in the back of a van, driven to a remote location and beaten and raped. Almost always they start out as online love relationships. Runaways are the second most common trafficking victims – in today’s social media age most kids aren’t running away just blindly, they are running TO something.”
When parents understand what child sex trafficking really IS, they can then use the right strategies to prevent, intercept and prosecute this despicable crime. Child Rescue Coalition works hand in hand with law enforcement to put an end to this cycle of abuse.
How Often Does Trafficking Happen?
“It’s a huge problem,” Cole told us, describing the pervasiveness of trafficking here in the United States. An International Labour Organization study uncovered these shocking statistics:
- 4.8 million people – predominantly female – were victims of forced sexual exploitation in 2016.
- Children comprised more than a fifth of all victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
- Victims were exploited for an average of about two years (23.1 months) before being freed or managing to escape.
- The true figure is likely far higher than the current estimates.
Inside the Minds of Traffickers
When we think of child sex traffickers, typically we think of pedophiles and fetishists, but Cole was clear that this is often not the case. “These traffickers are really more money motivated than fetish. They lack empathy. They are dangerous predators who have found a niche to hurt other people and benefit themselves.”
As far as child sexual abuse material consumption goes, typically purchasers are people who view, consume and trade it, while traffickers typically do not. Traffickers are dangerous criminals who exploit our children and it’s so important to get them off the street. You might think of them as the drug dealer. They don’t actually consume the cocaine but feed the habits of the addicts, while lining their own pockets with thousands of dollars.
How Trafficking Happens
At Child Rescue Coalition, we often talk about how predators groom children through online platforms, and familiarity is one of the main ways trafficking begins. Jim Cole described a cycle of a child meeting someone online, falling in love, being groomed, creating dependency, trafficking occurring, all while blind loyalty to the trafficker remains intact.
Victims believe that police are the enemy because unlike in the movies, traffickers are not always mean, cruel or scary, they are people the victim loves and become dependent upon. Unfortunately, in today’s digital age, it’s almost too easy for traffickers to isolate and traffic children.
What Makes Trafficking Easier Than Ever
With free, mainstream access to increasingly shocking pornography, the taboo of hard core sex is removed, making children more susceptible to trafficking because highly sexual encounters have been normalized. Smartphones and social media have made access to children easier than ever, creating an ever-expanding victim pool. Typically traffickers aren’t exploiting one child at a time, often they are in “relationships” with several children at the same time, across the country and regionally, Cole explained.
Why Trafficking Is So Hard To Prosecute
Beyond the prevalence, there are other challenges that law enforcement face trying to shut this activity down. From a digital standpoint, there is inconsistency in the tools to discover trafficking on service provider platforms. Additionally, victims are not always willing to speak out against their traffickers.
“[Trafficking] cases are harder to make. The complexities of trafficking are much newer. Victims of trafficking are often not willing to report it and cooperate when it is found,” Cole explained. He describes the problem as being very much like domestic violence. The beginning of a trafficking situation often looks like the start of a romance, but all it leads to is heartache.
A Way Forward to Eliminate Child Sex Trafficking
The partnership Child Rescue Coalition has with law enforcement is integral to eliminating sex trafficking. Jim Cole explained how our work is helping those on the front lines:
“By and large the majority of the work CRC is doing in exploitation, the tools they create that law enforcement are using are extremely helpful in preventing trafficking. Child Rescue Coalition is out there really pounding the message about online internet safety, parental oversight of online activities to help prevent it, and the investigative assistance through technology is extraordinary.”
You can join the fight against child sex trafficking by supporting the work of Child Rescue Coalition. The funds we receive allow us to support law enforcement with software to track down predators, rescue children, and educate parents about prevention to reduce the number of children who need to be rescued. Find out more about how you can get involved and make a donation today.