Swipe Right For a Loss of Freedom
When we open a dating app and swipe right, we typically never imagine a scenario where we are going to be communicating with a trafficker. As the digital age has progressed, the use of dating apps has become a norm. This rise in dating app usage has also been linked to numerous cases of human trafficking across the market.
Human trafficking is an unwarranted facet interwoven into our everyday lives. According to the U.S. State Department, approximately 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked in the United States alone each year. The most unassuming populations are lured into this dark world of deception with a promise of a better life, a good romance, or someone to love them.
When reading headlines about human trafficking, it is all too easy to believe that such atrocities only occur abroad in developing nations. However, it should be noted that cases of human trafficking exist in our local cities. Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise that deprives millions of people of individual liberties. This is a deep-seated issue that is affecting the masses in a way different than slavery has in the past. Supply and demand have always been key features of why human trafficking takes place around the world. Now, with just a click of a button, traffickers are able to lure in victims with dating apps through manipulative tactics.
With dating apps, a simple right swipe from one person can mean the loss of freedom for another.
In recent years, more news about the link between dating apps and human trafficking has surfaced. Ever since the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other U.S. Federal Agencies have shut down Backpage.com and affiliated websites as part of an enforcement action to limit sex advertisements online, pimps have shifted towards dating apps as a means of recruitment for their sex trafficking schemes. They often try to prey on the most defenseless individuals by introducing ideas of a better life or through promises of affection.
This past January, a woman named Chelsie Lancaster was a victim of human trafficking. She went on the Today show to discuss her story. Lancaster was going through a tough time after a breakup, and she used online dating platforms to try and meet new people. In the process, she met a man who told her that she could pursue stripping as a means of raising money for college tuition. Eventually, her trafficker posted her images on several websites to be sold online. In her interview, Lancaster recounts that she felt like she could not leave the world of her pimp because he controlled everything that was valuable to her. She stayed due to excessive fear. Her pimp baited her with a Porsche and a condo, luxuries she never had growing up. She felt that if she stayed, she would have a life that was ultimately better than the previous middle-class one that she had to leave behind.
Unfortunately, Lancaster’s story is not an isolated instance. In an ABC-7 WJLA article, a college student named Andrea Benson explains that like others, she was just looking for love when using dating apps. She discusses that her romance with a man whom she did not know was a pimp at first moved quickly, and he groomed her to be pimped out within two months of dating. She was baited by his ability to make her believe his false claims and baseless promises of a happy ever after. Numerous individuals similar to Lancaster and Benson fall prey to this sort of malicious recruitment each day.
One of the biggest myths about human trafficking is that it mostly occurs abroad in countries where resources are scarce. You may not even realize it, but your peers and people in your life may be potential victims of this despicable crime. As individuals continue to create accounts across multiple online dating platforms, the establishment of in-app protections, stricter laws which monitor cyberspace and the criminal operation of sex trafficking, and further research on this form of victim recruitment must take place.
If you use dating apps, be sure to take safety precautions when forming relationships online. For example, try having your first date in a public setting, inform your peers of your whereabouts, and ALWAYS trust your instincts because more often than not, you are probably right. Be safe and happy swiping!
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About the Author
Mrinalini Nagarajan is a junior at University of Maryland, College Park studying Criminology & Criminal Justice as her major, and Cybersecurity and Spanish as her minors. In her free time, she likes to work for her school's athletics department, watch Game of Thrones, only seasons 1-8 of How I Met Your Mother, Friends, Dexter, and Parks & Recreation, plan creative events, and take really long naps. She is super excited to be partnering with Dressember to publish educational content regarding the fight to end modern day slavery.