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Fighting Sex Trafficking

The Hidden Slave is ISA's first short film revealing the progression of coerced sex trafficking and how young girls get involved in prostitution through this diabolical method.

Image by Filip Mroz

Warning Signs of Sexual Exploitation

Stage One: Initiation
Stage Two: Grooming
Stage Three: Prostitution

In America, the most common way of gaining new victims of sexual exploitation is through mental manipulation and coercion. This is done by creating a new family unit. Often initiated thought demonstrating love, acceptance, and happiness - this new relationship is encouraged. The victim will experience affirmation, approval, and being welcomed into an emotional relationship or a new romantic love affair. Modern-day slave owners (aka pimps or traffickers) know how to control and manipulate their victims through abuse, blackmail, threats of violence, torture, drugs, and emotional trauma. The victim will usually be unaware that they are a target to be sold, until it is too late. Thankfully, with education and signs to look out for, victims and families can now be mindful of the tactics that are used to secure lifelong sex slaves. 

But why do victims keep silent? Very similar to abusive and unsafe dysfunctional families, pimps and traffickers mimic these broken family units by conditioning the victim with guilt, fear, and a newfound family loyalty. Victims learn to keep their secrets hidden and never betray their loyalty to their new 'family' unit. This mentally pushes the victim into silence and prepares them to ultimately accept the sexual abuse and exploitation. These are seen as their act of service and love to this new relationship and new family unit. Secrecy and loyalty are constantly conditioned into the minds of the victims so that their silence can keep their traffickers out of prison. The victims only view their loyalty as an act of love towards their trafficker.

Prostitutes (sex trafficked victims) usually have NO idea that they are victims of sexual exploitation, as their mental manipulation and coercion has been so methodically ingrained by their trafficker, convincing them that ‘they chose prostitution.’ When in fact, they were targeted from the beginning. 

Understand the Steps

Stage One: Initiation

Initiation begins with befriending a vulnerable individual from a trafficker. The victim is often unaware of the intent behind the relationship, as the pimp or trafficker has targeted the unsuspecting person solely for a future money maker. The victim will usually be enthralled with the new relationship, one that seems ‘too good to be true.’ The target will be showered with love, gifts, affirmation, and expensive outings so that their love and attention grows quickly towards their trafficker. Meanwhile, with a heavy emphasis built on loyalty, the new relationship continues to bloom.

Stage Two: Grooming

Grooming is an important stage because it continues indoctrinating the target on specific values loyalty and love. Before long, the victim will be pulled away from all close relationships. Just as a child predator works hard to build trust and gain access to a minor, so too a trafficker strategically manipulates all those around them as they isolate the victim, prepping them for sexual exploitation and prostitution. The trafficker is convincing and will continue to mentally manipulate the victim.

Stage Three: Prostitution

Prostitution has many faces and levels. Sexting and stripping will be slowly introduced, and eventually prostitution will be demanded as a way to pay back costs or contributing to their future. Through fear, intimidation, blackmail, threats, insecurity, guilt, or a desire to help create income for a 'better life' - a victim will be made to feel that they owe it to their trafficker to prostitute themselves. Once involved with prostitution, a victim will be guilted into staying. They hold on to the hope that one day their trafficker will let them out. Some are conditioned to believe that it will be over when they have enough money to support their dream life together. Sadly, it will never be enough to ever get out. And just as child victims rarely tell anyone about their abuse and blame themselves, so do the prostituted victims, as their traffickers play on their guilt and condition them that this has been their ‘choice.’ Victims are also conditioned to ‘willingly’ go to jail for their trafficker, if ever discovered.

Image by Filip Mroz

Warning Signs of Sexual Exploitation...

Stage One: Initiation

  • New friend or boyfriend

  • Expensive clothes

  • Extra cash from trafficker

  • Extravagant dates

  • Visiting places of sexual exploitation (strip clubs) 

  • Pushing all sexual boundaries

  • Progressing in sexual exploitation from sexting to having sex

Stage Two: Grooming

  • Pulling away and isolating from family and friends

  • Sexually involved with trafficker and breaking down any previous sexual boundaries 

  • Secretive and defensive attitude towards trafficker (proving loyalty towards trafficker)

  • Drug use, depression, and anxiety

  • Sexually promiscuous activity and clothing

  • Experiencing sexual abuse, bruises, torture (if going through the ‘breaking grounds’)

  • Exposure to all aspects of sexual immorality. 

  • Exposure to pornography and stripping (then are encouraged to act them out)

  • Hotel trips and key cards (conditioning for being at hotels)

  • Fake ID (for entrance into places that are not age appropriate establishments)

Stage Three: Prostitution

  • Appears malnourished with bruises and marks of physical abuse and torture

  • Not allowed to go out alone and is monitored

  • Activities of sexual immorality, stripping, sexting, and prostitution

  • Has no money and few personal items

  • Looking at the ground, not looking at men in the eyes

  • Opening door for trafficker and submitting to male dominance and control

  • Calling boyfriend (trafficker) ‘daddy’ (accepting and verbally submitting to the new family unit)

  • Scripted responses (being told what to say) or not allowed to talk

  • Tattoos (being branded by trafficker is a common way to advertise and claim ownership)

  • Drug use and other addictions to cope with trauma

  • Fearful and secretive of trafficker who is very controlling

  • Lots of trips out of town (hotel key cards)

  • Talks about ‘loyalty’ when referring to bad things surrounding the relationship with trafficker

  • Sexually explicit profile pictures (used to advertise for buyers)

  • Inability to socially connect and fear of social interaction

  • Depression and anxiety heightened, as well as nervousness and submission to trafficker

  • Absent from school or work, quitting work or other activities

  • Isolation from family and friends

  • Convinces self ‘they chose this life’ and does not consider self a victim

Need Help?

To report human trafficking or to obtain information on services for trafficked persons...

Call National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate. 

You can text HELP to 233733.

Support is provided in more than 200 languages. 

Report missing children or child pornography to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678).

Report a possible trafficking situation anonymously online here.  


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