There are many different methods of recruitment traffickers have at their disposal. A prevalent form of recruitment is boyfriending/girlfriending. While using this tactic a trafficker will build a romantic relationship with the victim first. All traffickers prey on vulnerabilities. Some examples of vulnerabilities that can be susceptible to this tactic are low self-esteem, youth/inexperience, and those who are single.
A trafficker can start a relationship in a number of ways. Malls are an easy place for traffickers to become friends with young people. It is a place guaranteed to be full of young people, and usually not supervised. Social media is also an easy place for traffickers to start relationships with potential victims. On social media, like the mall, there is not a lot of supervision or safety measures. People tend to trust what they learn and hear online without realizing it can be a facade. The profile picture can say one thing while the actual person can be completely different.
Here are some red flags to watch out for: They have a controlling partner or their partner is considerably older, disconnected from family or caregivers, they do not have control of their money and say their boyfriend/girlfriend has it, and/or they engage in activities that are not age appropriate. This is not a complete list by any means but does have key signs of trafficking to watch out for.
Once a relationship has developed the trafficker can use force, fraud, and/or coercion against the victim. Physical or emotional force can be used. The trafficker can threaten to share details of their relationship with the victim’s friends and family. Or they can try and convince the victim to commit sexual acts through coercion, like saying if they really loved them they would do this. These examples and many more options are at a trafficker’s disposal once a relationship has been created.
This form of recruitment can appear innocent in the beginning as it will look like a romantic relationship. Holly Austin Smith, a local NJ survivor, met her trafficker at the mall. This is how she described her experience.
“I felt special that he picked me, and he told me that I was special when we talked on the phone. He said I was too mature for high school, that I was pretty enough to be a model, and that he could introduce me to famous musicians to help me become a songwriter. As a kid who grew up on MTV, this was my dream. After we talked on the phone for about two weeks, this man suggested that I run away from home with him. And I did. Within hours of running away, I was forced into prostitution and coerced into working on the streets and in the casino hotels of Atlantic City, New Jersey.”
If you are interested in learning more about Smith’s story, she wrote a book documenting her experience. Her story shows how easily a trafficker can manipulate a vulnerability.
The greatest way to prevent trafficking is to be aware. Share information with others about what girlfriending/boyfriending looks like and speak out if you suspect something. As always, if you see something please do not investigate or interfere yourself, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (888) 373-7888.