Human Trafficking and The Grooming Process

Discussing the grooming process of human trafficking is an uncomfortable issue. Many will turn away from this conversation. Some may even scoff at the thought that the trafficked individual is a victim. "How could they not see through these lies? It's so obvious!" Traffickers are experts at manipulation. Recruiting victims isn't through violence. Understanding how this process will not only educate you further on the complex issue that is human trafficking, but will teach you how to detect traffickers.

What does the term "grooming" mean? Defined by RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), grooming involves manipulative behaviors used to gain victims. This can be done to children, teenagers, and vulnerable adults. 

The information provided below doesn't account for ALL trafficking cases, but this is how the grooming process works overall. The process provided came from research provided by Polaris Project

#1 - Target the victim: The obvious first step would be the trafficker targeting their victim. When someone has a vulnerability, whether that be low self-esteem or loneliness, this creates an invisible target on their back. Traffickers see these targets from a mile away. Sometimes, a trafficker may just be charming and friendly to a potential victim. Multiple sources (i.e. Fight The New Drug, NY Post, Deliver Fund) have shared that social media made targeting victims much easier. For example, FTND shared how a team from online safety company, Bark, pretended to be an 11-year-old girl on Instagram, only to be bombarded by numerous messages from older men asking for sex. Social media has made grooming easier.
#2 - Gain trust: After meeting their victim, a trafficker works hard to gain that person's trust. Traffickers will pretend to care about what their victim tells them. Appearing to be a good listener is common among traffickers' tactics. This causes the victim to believe their potential trafficker cares about what is happening in their life. When it comes from someone the individual knows, such as a family member or family friend, gaining that trust is simpler. 
#3 - Meet the victim's needs: Traffickers will now move to meet their victim's needs. Deliver Fund says that "Traffickers utilize the information they gathered to fill a role in the victim's life. Through gifts, love, friendship, drugs, or alcohol, traffickers force the victims into a dependent relationship." Unbeknownst to the victim, the trafficker gains a power over their victim: the power to give or take away. Traffickers will threaten their victim with taking away that thing they provided, which gives them the upper hand. Not immediately, but later on.
#4 - Isolate: Now a trafficker will make the victim feel totally dependent on the trafficker. By isolating a victim from friends or family, that person now feels completely dependent on their trafficker. Feeling as if they cannot live or survive without that trafficker. A simple way a trafficker may do this is by telling their victim they don't have anyone who cares about them "like I care about you." Once that person feels isolated, a trafficker knows their victim cannot reach out for help.
#5 - Exploitation: Exploitation is manipulating someone to do their will. It may begin as the trafficker asking their victim, "Will you have sex with my friend for money?" Overtime, the victim will become conditioned to believe that having sex for money (or performing other acts) is normal. As stated by Polaris Project, "A victim may even feel like they owe their trafficker for all they have done for them or believe their trafficker when they say that the situation is just temporary or a way for them to reach their common goals, such as getting out of the sex trade and starting a family."
#6 - Control: Polaris Project shared, "The trafficker may keep their victim in the trafficking situation by continuing to isolate them, threatening them or their loved ones if they attempt to leave, controlling them through their addiction, or even manipulating their sense of self." Control is what a trafficker's end goal is. To have their victim completely dependent on them. The process then restarts for the next victim.

Once I learned about how the grooming process works, there is no doubt in my mind (based on what I read from victims' testimonies/transcript) that Ghislaine Maxwell was a trafficker. 

How can we determine who is in a trafficking situation? As discussed in my previous article, get trained. There are free programs you can use to get properly trained in recognizing human trafficking. Both Polaris Project and On Watch have excellent courses. Not to mention it is free, so it's no risk to take it! I just started my training at Polaris Project. These conversations are uncomfortable, but we have a responsibility to help others in need. If you notice something is wrong, speak up. STOP THE DEMAND.

Check out my article for Gen Z Conservative, where I discuss the history of human trafficking!

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