• Elijah Ugoh

The Role of the Internet in Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers: A Survivor’s Story


The Role of the Internet in Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers: A Survivor’s Story
The Role of the Internet in Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Teenagers: A Survivor’s Story

In addressing the root causes of sex trafficking and human trafficking in general, research strongly indicates that technology, particularly the internet, plays a significant role in helping traffickers. Currently, sex trafficking and sexual exploitation is the most rampant form of human trafficking and the fastest growing criminal enterprise globally, thanks to the internet.


In a communique released by the Inter-Agency Coordination Group Against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT), addressing the growth of online sex trafficking and possible solutions, we understand that a coordinated and cooperative response involving all stakeholders, such as the governments, the UN, tech companies, CSOs, and survivors, is one of the most effective ways to tackle the problem.


Sex traffickers no longer rely on traditional means of abducting and trafficking children. The newest and most effective strategy today involves the use of websites and platforms dedicated to sharing explicit content, such as pornography, child sex, and all sorts of obscene materials. But to formulate a strategy that would be truly effective in addressing this issue, we need to understand the problem by studying how perpetrators engage their victims. We can take some cue from the gory story of Sarah Cooper, an online sex trafficking survivor.


Predators Groom their Victims Online


Grooming is usually how it starts. A friendly conversation that eventually turns into a sizzling secret exploration, only to appear as a shock to the teenager involved that they were being groomed all along. Sarah Cooper would know better: as a teenager, she was groomed online and abducted by a “friend” she had met on Facebook.


Although Sarah recently shared her story, the event happened back in 2014. According to her, during her mid-teen years, she felt alienated from her parents and began communicating with a supposed friend on Facebook. During that conversation, she willfully exchanged obscene images of herself with the stranger. All the while, her parents were in the dark. She finally agreed to meet in person with her new friend. But she was shocked to realize that the person with whom she had been communicating was much older than herself — around his late thirties or early forties.



Sarah Cooper: Sex Trafficking Survivor
Sarah Cooper: Sex Trafficking Survivor

One thing led to another, and she was later abducted and sex trafficked for about two weeks. Sarah was moved from one city to another by her predator. After being violated against her will, she was able to get away. Now, at the age of 24, Sarah works with anti-trafficking groups like ECPAT-USA with the intent of using her experience to help and warn others.


Sarah’s story throws light on how predators prey on vulnerable people. They strategically exploit the dire situation of the teenager, pretending as a friend, lover, or helper. In her case, Sarah’s abductor capitalized on her alienation from her parents. This is why runaways, homeless kids, socially disadvantaged children, and homosexuals make up the highest number of victims of sex trafficking. Predators hone in and exploit the adversity and trauma that these kids have gone through.


Making the Internet Safer for Children


Cooper’s story goes without saying that parents need to pay attention to the activities of their children online. Predators have mastered the art of disguising themselves as friends and luring children and teenagers into their trap. Sites such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are common channels predators use, particularly prevalent in the United States.


In May this year, many attorneys general sent a letter to Facebook, persuading the company to discourage creating Instagram and Facebook accounts for children. Facebook responded by pointing to a blog explaining how they are “continuing to make Instagram safer for the youngest members of their community.”


We’ve also learned that sextortion, the practice of extorting more child sexual material from their victims by threatening to reveal evidence of their sexual activity, is a common strategy predators use to keep their victims under control. Once teenagers have been persuaded into sharing obscene pictures of themselves, they are then coerced to continue doing this or risk being exposed to their parents. Out of fear, most victims continue to indulge in this practice until it gets out of hand. If parents or guardians are attentive enough, they will notice a sudden change in their child’s behavior, which is often a sign that something is wrong.


How We’re Helping at the Mission Haven


The Mission Haven is a non-profit, charity-funded organization focused on providing a transformational Haven of Healing for victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking like Sarah Cooper. We believe that every single DMST or child sex trafficking survivor still has a chance at life at its best. This approach is the ideal type of care that organizations and agencies caring for trafficking survivors, as well as runaways and homeless youths, can adopt to prepare for the road ahead.


Our goal at The Mission Haven is to provide them with all the support they need to start over. With your generous donations and support, we can continue to provide a truly safe haven of hope and healing equipped with essential resources to lift victims and survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking. To give, volunteer, or become a partner, feel free to contact us today.

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