Who is at risk for sex trafficking?


What makes someone more at-risk of falling victim to sex trafficking than others? Knowing the vulnerabilities of people who are exploited through sex trafficking can drastically lower the number of those who are impacted by this awful epidemic. There are no definite criteria that automatically make someone more at-risk, but there are a few factors that play a part in increasing one’s vulnerability to sex trafficking.


One of the biggest factors of becoming a target of sex trafficking can be summed up in one study: the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines ACEs as, “stressful or traumatic childhood events, including abuse and neglect.” The study highlights the increase in issues of those that have gone through cumulative childhood stress, all of which create more vulnerabilities to being exploited through sex trafficking. Previous abuse and/or neglect make people more susceptible to falling into the hands of a trafficker. Abuse breaks down a child. It lowers self-esteem, affects brain development, and alters the structure of the parts of the brain that control impulse and emotion – all of which a trafficker can spot from a mile away. Traffickers will use the effects of abuse to manipulate someone into a life of sex trafficking.

Other big factors that can cause someone to become a target of sex trafficking victimization are being homeless or a runaway. These two correlate because many youth on the street chose to run away, oftentimes running away from dysfunction at home. These two situational needs can cause someone to be more at-risk to a life of sex trafficking, because people in these situations seek out what most people in America already have: shelter, work and security. Traffickers prey on these basic needs by promising to provide for them in exchange for sex work. It is a lot easier to lure someone in from the streets who is desperate for security than it is to lure someone who already has their basic needs met.  In fact, 1 in 5 homeless youth are estimated to become victims of sex trafficking due to these vulnerabilities.


Sex trafficking is also a big problem among undocumented immigrants. A sex trafficking victim of undocumented status may develop a mindset of fear, distrust, denial and conflicting loyalties. They are often fearful of being deported or jailed and, therefore, they might distrust authority figures, particularly law enforcement and government officials. Traffickers may convince such victims that if they report to the police, the police will jail the victim for prostitution while the traffickers and buyers of sex go free.

In addition, those living in third world countries often seek better opportunities within the United States in an effort to have a better life for their families and themselves. Traffickers take advantage of this by manipulating them into a life of slavery. Deception usually takes place at the beginning stages of the trafficking process but may exist throughout. For example, a person might be promised a job in a bar, but is then forced to work in a brothel.


Knowing what makes someone more at-risk to sex trafficking is valuable, but it does nothing if we are not willing to do something about it. Abuse and neglect, homelessness, and undocumented citizenship have negative stigmas attached that can negatively affect the way we interact and contribute to these cultures of oppression. Starting with changing our own mindset, we need to make ourselves aware that trafficking can happen to anyone, but certain people are more vulnerable. We need to address these populations if we want to do reduce victimization and educate ourselves through the many resources available. When we allow these resources to remain in the forefront of our mind, they can empower us to empower others.


It is not too late to be a part of the impact!

Right now, thousands of people around the world are taking on the creative challenge of wearing a dress or tie in the month of December. The reason? To bring freedom to the 40+ million around the world still trapped in slavery. Your donation or participation in Dressember 2018 is part of a movement to end human trafficking for good.

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About the Author

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Hannah Blair is a psychology major with an end goal of counseling survivors of human trafficking, such as herself. She is currently pursuing a certification in Biblical counseling and is excited to be a part of Dressember! She enjoys running, cooking, and most importantly, napping.