Insights from some surveyed survivors of child sex trafficking revealed the alarming roles of technology and the internet in the growth of domestic minor sex trafficking.
Technology, as we know it today, is playing an increasing role in ensnaring and controlling victims of domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST). The use of technology is a significant reason why DMST continues to thrive today. This is because the majority of sex trafficking victims use cellular technology and can be found online.
Traffickers understand this and have found ways to groom and force victims to sell sex online. According to a survey of 260 survivors of DMST published by Thorn in January 2018, which was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Vanessa Bouche, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University, traffickers are increasingly using technology to lure unsuspecting victims into minor sex trafficking every day.
Overview of Survey Respondents
The survey interviewed 260 DMST survivors across 24 survivor organizations in 14 states. The majority of participants (98%) were female, 2% were male, and 1% identified as “other”. Another 67% identified as heterosexual, 25% bisexual, 5% homosexual, 2% “other”, and 1% “don’t know”. In terms of race, 45% of the respondents identified themselves as African American, 27% Caucasian, 21% Hispanic, and 8% “other”.
The Role of Technology in Recruiting and Grooming
Before coercing victims into trading sex, traffickers first build trust in their victims. Usually, they promise them something perfect to look forward to — a better life, a way out of poverty, access to the happening parties in town, etc. Some even act like a boyfriend or dad to the girls until they switch to the use of violence.
All this can begin with a friendly online chat, a text, and then a phone call, a cool night out, but the end game is to get the victims to trust them, such that it will become hard for them to break free when they've been forced "into the life". This is known as the grooming stage, and the experience of one victim can vary widely from the experience of another victim. This is because traffickers often use complicated and unique approaches when targeting the vulnerable.
Among the respondents surveyed by Thorn, they observed that respondents who entered the life in 2015 used technology a lot, which aided their recruitment. Only 45% of them reported meeting their trafficker face to face, while the rest were recruited through online platforms, apps, and text messaging. 84% of respondents reported meeting their trafficker for the first time face to face.
Thorn also discovered that 85% of the survey respondents reported their trafficker spent lots of time with them in person to build a relationship. All of these continue to point to the fact that traffickers abduct their victims and start trafficking them for sex. Instead, they use the internet and technology-driven approach to attract and lure their victims into DMST.
Traffickers Now Recruit, Trade, and Advertise Online
There's a remarkable switch in how sex trafficking business is now conducted. Buyers and sellers now do their business online more than ever before. Insights gathered from respondents in this survey revealed that most victims still had access
to the internet, and 90% of them confirmed they were active on social media.
At this point, they have been fully converted into numb slaves under the control of their pimps or masters, and would do anything asked of them to prevent further abuse and use of violence on them. They often use social media to communicate with family, friends, traffickers, and even buyers. Interestingly, according to those who entered "the life" after 2004, online advertising increased to 75% from 38% before 2004. Street advertising, on the other hand, dropped from 78% to 61%.
The shift in statistics suggests that there was more patronage online than on the streets. And indeed, 1 in 7 respondents that their traffickers advertised on the street said they had more than 10 buyers per day, while 1 in 4 respondents who their traffickers promoted online said they had more than 10 buyers every day.
The websites most frequently used by victims include Facebook, Backpage, Craigslist, Instagram, RedBook, Sugar Daddy, and Google, with Backpage being the most popular.
Insights for Action
According to stories from many survivors, the average age of entry into life is 14 years. While this survey corroborates other research on DMST, it also found that most victims are commercially exploited for sex starting from age 12, but most start at 15. One in six of the survey participants confirmed they were trafficked fir sex before the age of 12.
Help Us Make a Difference at the Mission Haven
The testimonies of DMST survivors provide us with critical information about how we can equally use technology to up our game against the perpetration of this crime in our communities At The Mission Haven, we are committed to providing a comprehensive and transformational Haven of Healing to victims and survivors of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking.
With your generous donations and support, we can continue to reach out to/educate victims and provide a haven of hope and healing equipped with essential resources to help victims and survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking. To give, volunteer, or become a partner, feel free to contact us today.