MYTH: Only undocumented individuals are victims of sex trafficking in the US

Local news sources frequently report domestic sex trafficking raids at locations such as massage salons and nail salons. These kinds of cases have a reputation for underpaying workers for their professional work during the day and recruiting the same workers for sex trafficking at night. Such scenarios often involve undocumented, foreign-born persons from Asia or Latin America who were brought into the country through the deceptive promise of work. For this reason, these are the examples that come to our minds when we think of domestic sex trafficking. ( )

While it is crucial to understand the reality of this form of sex trafficking, it is also important to recognize that this is not the only scenario. In fact, certain regions produce trafficking of U.S. citizens more often than trafficking of undocumented foreign-born citizens. Take a look at this article from about trafficking in New Jersey. Bill Williger, a special agent of Homeland Security investigations in the Tampa Bay region, states that most of the trafficking cases he handles involve U.S. citizens. ( )

Statements like these beckon the question: How do U.S. citizens become involved in sex trafficking?

Apart from the method of recruitment mentioned above that targets citizens of  foreign countries, popular forms of recruitment of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are boyfriending, peer pressure, and online recruitment. Boyfriending involves forming a romantic relationship with the victim and using the his/her trust as a means of gradual manipulation into trafficking. Peer pressure involves using the influence of a peer to convince the victim to become involved. Online recruitment involves using an online platform to recruit.

Boyfriending involves forming a romantic relationship with the victim and using the his/her trust as a means of gradual manipulation into trafficking.

Although there are so many stories that capture these different ways of trafficking U.S. citizens, I chose the story of a survivor named Bianca because she was recruited through social media, a familiar platform to all participants in this campaign. Bianca’s trafficker recruited her using a combination of online recruitment and boyfriending. At the age of 15, Bianca followed a man nicknamed Shy on Instagram because she liked his tattoo posts. Their relationship started with liking and commenting on each others pictures. They eventually began messaging one another on Instagram and exchanged numbers. Shy was a source of support to Bianca through a rocky year. She confided in him about relationship issues with her boyfriend, and Shy offered her an appealing alternative. He encouraged her to go on a trip with him to Vegas for his birthday to get away from her problems. He spoke of being in love with her and wanting to be with her as leverage for convincing her to stay with him. He also promised her that he could help her make a lot of money.

Shy was a source of support to Bianca through a rocky year.

She met up with him in San Jose, but they never made it to Vegas. He took her to a motel where he instructed her to sleep with other guys. When she tried calling friends to help her escape, he threatened to kill anyone who came to retrieve her. As time went on, he expected her and his other victims to sleep with over twenty-five guys a day. They had to make a thousand dollars for him each day in order to earn their sleep time. She was held for two years by Shy, filled with physical and emotional abuse. He was able to manipulate her into coming back to him even after her attempts to leave “the life”. At the age of eighteen, she finally escaped for good. He was arrested shortly after on Feb 7th of 2016.

Bianca is one of the many U.S. citizens who was successfully recruited into sex trafficking. Although she does not fit into the typical news story on domestic sex trafficking, her experience represents that of many. Understanding all forms of sex trafficking in the United States is a key way to equip ourselves to be better advocates for people like Bianca.

If you or someone you know is being forced to do things against their will or is a victim of domestic sex trafficking, please call the Human Trafficking Hotline Number (888) 373-7888 or call the New Jersey Human Trafficking Hotline number 855.END.NJ.HT (855-363-6548)

Written by Mariah Springer, Love True, It Could Be Me Campaign Manager





O (Hughes, Donna, Janice Raymond, and Carol Gomez. "Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States." Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (2001).)