The average age of a trafficked girl or boy in the US is 12-14 and spans all socioeconomic identifiers. The grooming process thrives on many social media platforms and hookup apps like Tinder, Grind, online games, Tumblr, Pinterest and of course, Instagram and Snapchat and might appear to be harmless to teens at first. “Grooming” refers to when a predator builds an emotional (romantic/co-dependent) connection with their target to gain their trust for the ultimate purpose of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or trafficking. Most teens do not realize they are being groomed as it is happening, only once it is too late.
Many trafficked girls and boys in the United States are still attending school and may potentially even be living with their families. They are exploited in the evening and returned to their homes under the veil of secrecy, shame, and threats of violence or death. Other girls get transported around the nation and the globe. Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world and has no single formula. The current estimated revenue globally of human trafficking is 150 Billion dollars. So, what do your teens need to know to be alert to groomers online?
1.VULNERABILITY: Traffickers specifically look for young girls (and boys) who post scandalous pictures, bikini pictures, partying pictures, or anything that would suggest that they are looking for love, attention, have discord with their parents or friends and are willing to engage in risky behavior. They target their insecurities and aim to fill the voids in their life temporarily. If individuals are open online about their loneliness, their heartache, if they are looking to be seen as “hot,” if they have issues with their parents, self-harm or negative body image, and primarily if they operate in a “victim” mentality; these are all great examples of what a perpetrator may use as tools for manipulation.
2.RELATIONSHIP: Groomers will “court” the teen on social media either as a friend or in pursuit of a relationship, telling the individual how beautiful they are, and how much they care for them. They will start to isolate and manipulate by telling the teen that they are the only one who really cares about them, really understands them or loves them. Groomers may spend months and months building an emotional connection with someone online. They may go on a few dates or even meet the family. This type of relationship is a giant red flag. Although we live in a time when many people are connecting and building relationships online, we are also in a time where predators make FULL-TIME jobs of building fake relationships that ultimately end in exploitation. In general, it can be hazardous to start relationships with strangers online even if they look kind, and look young. Groomers always use fake accounts, fake photos, and fake names. Groomers utilize scouts to help them identify possible targets. Scouts can use social media or walk places like the mall looking for targets. Scouts are usually young adults who look exactly like what your child would want to be.
3.SECRECY: Groomers encourage secretive behavior and encourage their subjects to hide details or separate from the people closest to them. The goal is isolation and division from people who care for them.
(Parental Note: If your child is talking with someone online that they will not let you know about, this is a possible sign that a groomer is training this secret behavior. If you ask your child whom they are talking to, and they get defensive, understand that you are the parent and have a right to know whom your child is communicating with online.)
4.NUDE PHOTOS: In the end, photos and videos act as blackmail material against the victim. It is culturally normal (although unhealthy) for adolescents to send nude pictures to one another and unfortunately, most girls expect to be asked for pics when they are communicating with a guy. Capitalizing on this, groomers will obtain the pictures during the relationship building process, and then the traffickers will use these photos to silence their victims, threatening to show the images to their families, or post them all over for their friends to see. Driven by shame, exploited girls often do not speak out for fear of these photos becoming public. Many times the blackmailing goes to an extreme where the trafficker will invite the child to a party, in which they will proceed to gang rape them and Video the act, utilizing it as the final blackmail to get them to work for them. (Parental note: It is essential to build a culture within your family that would inform your children that you love them unconditionally and under ALL circumstances. A family culture of acceptance increases the likelihood that your children will bring information to you, even if it is harsh or heartbreaking information for the parent to hear. The information in this article may seem extreme and unbelievable, but these are the facts. )
5.GIFTS: Groomers may buy their subjects expensive gifts, or pay for them get their nails and hair done. Gifts increases trust, increases loyalty to the groomer, makes the teen feel “special” and ultimately provides an additional tool of manipulation when the groomer needs the subjects obedience.
IF THE GROOMING PROCESS IS SUCCESSFUL:
Once successfully groomed, things escalate very quickly and very dangerously. From the moment a person is trafficked, it is difficult to recover them, and the life span of a trafficked girl is seven years once she starts being sold, beaten, and drugged. The average pimp makes between $30-50k a week and therefore, will be very stealthy with how he gets his victims. On average, a victim is serving between 7 – 15 clients (johns) a day. If the victim is a minor, by law, it is considered rape. Most victims deal with getting drugged, threatened, cut, raped, choked, tied, and beaten every day by the customers. 100% of all buyers of sex are porn users. The profile of a buyer in America is a 45 – 60-year-old white male, married with children. The average income of a buyer is over 75,000.00 a year. The average cost of a “trick” is 200.00. ALL buyers are addicted to porn. The average buyer is not someone who “looks” like a criminal. The average buyer looks like your neighbor.
Young girls and boys MUST take their online conduct, posting, and relationships seriously. It is vital that they understand that the internet is not a naturally safe place.
If you believe you or someone you know is in danger, here are some immediate resources:
NOTE: Once sexually exploited, many girls do not tell anyone out of the fear of being harmed by their trafficker or having the lives of the people they love threatened. They no longer believe they are worthy or lovable. Often, they are afraid they will have disappointed their family beyond redemption. They believe there is no hope or no way out.
Be safe online. Also, if you are in danger, reach out for help. There IS HOPE.