Sex-trafficking is a crime that is often hidden in plain sight.
Many people are not educated on what sex trafficking actually is because it is often misrepresented in social media and movies. For example, the “Taken” series makes it seem like trafficking only happens in foreign countries and can portray it as human smuggling, which is incorrect.
There is the belief that sex trafficking only happens outside of the United States when in actuality sex trafficking has been reported in all 72 counties in Wisconsin and 11 of our 12 tribes. This could be due to a lack of child and parent awareness on signs about what trafficking is. After the victim has contact and constant communication with the trafficker, they could get sucked into the grooming process.
Sex trafficking is defined as using force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. The average age of initial entry into trafficking is 13 and typically begins with the grooming process.
The grooming process happens in four steps and is the start of control and manipulation the trafficker holds over their victim. Traffickers often target individuals who may not get along with their parents, may not have a lot of friends or have low self-esteem.
In the initial step, the traffickers come across as very attentive, caring and charming. They gain trust from their victims by buying them things, talking and giving them attention constantly and can even become romantically involved.
In the second stage, they make it so their victims have to start depending on them for everything, and they start to seclude their victims from other people in their lives. This can also be referred to as the isolation stage.
In the third stage, the traffickers become more forceful and violent. They control their victims through threats of harm to the victims and their families. They make the victims feel as though they have control of their decisions, but they usually give them choices between two bad options. In doing this, they make the victims feel like the abuse they experience is their fault.
The last stage of the grooming process is when the traffickers start to exploit their victims.
After survivors exit trafficking, they can experience different types of trauma and damage to their bodies. Survivors are often denied basic health care. Since most survivors are woman, there can be a lot of damage and lack of access to feminine care.
The physical abuse that survivors experience can lead to traumatic brain injury, sensory issues, migraines and other somatic symptoms. On top of these, they also experience psychological and emotional abuse. This can affect everyday tasks like attention, planning and learning. It also decreases their self-image, self-worth, and they could start to emotionally detach themselves from others, which can turn into them having difficulty maintaining healthy relationships. They often blame themselves for what happened to them and could develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, which include drug and alcohol use.
Recognizing the grooming process can help people become aware of the tactics traffickers use and identify situations before they get coerced into them. It can also help parents, friends, teachers and others identify signs that someone might be at risk or need help getting out of difficult situations.
Understanding a little bit of the trauma that survivors might experience can also help find them correct resources and aid in the recovery process.
Alexandra Harris is a social work student at UW-Whitewater. She wrote this a class assignment.