Guest Blog by Rachel Thomas and Emily Hollerbach
“Look! Look! Look!” Have you ever been around a toddler who just drew a nice picture, or a kid who just learned to ride a bike? Kids are usually pretty honest about saying (or shouting!) what they want. But unlike more candy and bigger toys, kids’ longing to be seen isn’t indulgent– it’s a deep psychological need. “Look!” is a simple expression of every person’s innate need for attention and validation. Some teens might still say “look!” when they ace a hard test or learn a new skill, but even those who don’t say it are seeking it. This universal need is the one that can cause vulnerability in any teen, no matter his or her upbringing, ethnicity, neighborhood, or childhood experiences.
Grooming for Sexual Exploitation:
In America, one of the most common types of traffickers is the Romeo. These traffickers are very cunning and manipulative, and lure their victims in with gifts, promises of romance and affection. They become a romantic “boyfriend”, “girlfriend” or “partner” who seems to be a knight in shining armor. Traffickers buy their partners new phones, new purses or other luxury items. They’ll pay to get their victims’ hair and nails done. Over time, traffickers begin to manipulate or coerce their victim into performing commercial sexual acts, from which they ultimately profit. Coercion is used to encourage their partner to identify as only being good for sex, and eventually into believing that getting paid for sex is better than not getting paid.
Other common tactics include controlling their victims’ contact with the outside world. This may be done through threats or mental manipulation, like blaming or shaming. Traffickers may control phone usage, access to transportation, and who their partner is around. Isolation from family and good friends is done in an attempt to usurp these roles, turning the trafficker into a “Daddy” figure who can provide everything they need. False promises on future rewards are frequently made, such as the purchase of a home or cars and vacations. While these false promises are entirely illusionary, they keep the partner in a state of bondage, envisioning a better life with more comfort, stability and happiness than previously known.
Why Do They Stay?
Victims of sex trafficking often stay with their traffickers because of trauma bonds and Identity Disturbance. The extreme ups and downs of the relationship bond victims to their traffickers, and, despite being placed in highly dangerous situations, victims will often view their trafficker as the one who keeps them “safe.” Traffickers will treat their victims harshly and cruelly, but intersperse this behavior with small acts of kindness or words of affection. Meanwhile, the victim’s survival brain is triggered, making them only concerned with immediate survival. In reality, leaving is enormously difficult, and most long-term exits only happen after multiple attempts. The longer a victim is immersed in the dark world of trafficking and the more the victim learns to operate in it, the harder it becomes to leave.
There is a Solution in Prevention!
Teen dating violence can shift into sexual exploitation when traffickers disguise themselves as loving partners. The Cool Aunt Series is a brand new, online sex trafficking prevention series created with this in mind. This engaging and thought-provoking experience features 12 videos, quiz question, risk self-assessment, certification, resources, and ongoing community geared towards teens 13 and older. If you are a parent or a caregiver, you can go through the course first on your own and then gift it to your teen. There couldn’t be a more important time to get this into the hands of a teen you love!