Sex Traffickers Use Tech, the Internet to Lure, Exploit Victims

Sex trafficking has increased rapidly in recent years in the U.S. and worldwide, thanks in large part to modern technology and the internet.

“Traffickers are quick to adapt their business model to suit their needs and increase their profits, so, of course, they follow online trends,” said Tiphanie Crittin, a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) justice officer at the United Nations Working Group on Trafficking in Persons meeting. “Traffickers are using technology to profile, recruit, control and exploit their victims.”

Why Does Sex Trafficking Occur?

Sex trafficking is highly profitable. A UN report says that “illicit proceeds are being laundered online through cryptocurrencies, which makes it easier for traffickers to receive, hide, and move large amounts of money with less risk of being detected.”

Online advertising has been the main solicitation tactic to draw in buyers of commercial sex, the UN report says. At the UN Working Group, Alexandra Gelber, Deputy Chief for Policy and Legislation at the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, reported that more than 80 percent of the U.S. Department of Justice’s sex trafficking prosecutions involved online advertising.

Technology, Gelber said, is being used to commit virtual child sex trafficking, which takes place when an offender in one country sends a digital payment to a trafficker in another country. The victim could be in yet a third country, which makes gaining evidence of crime a jurisdictional nightmare.

The Role of Complicit Hotels, Motels in Sex Trafficking 

The problem is exasperated by hotel owners and staff who provide traffickers with access to hotel rooms, where prostitution occurs. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), hotels and motels can be held liable, both civilly and criminally, for sex trafficking that occurs on their property.

How Does Sex Trafficking Occur Online?

In the United States, approximately 40 percent of sex trafficking victims are recruited online, which makes the internet the most common recruiting ground, the UN report says. With the internet, traditional physical and geographical limitations no longer exist.

Sex traffickers trick their victims with fake websites or advertisements on legitimate employment portals and social networking websites. Some of the websites offer live chat options, which give traffickers real-time contact. Through chats, they gather information such as driver’s license or passport details to gain power over their targets, sometimes remotely, without ever having met in person. Sex traffickers use location-tracking applications as well as global positioning systems in cell phones to gain the victim’s location.

What Constitutes Sex Trafficking?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes sex trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 further defines it as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.”

Sex trafficking can involve the use of force, fraud or coercion to make an individual engage in commercial sex acts. But “commercial sexual activity with a minor, even without force, fraud, or coercion, is considered trafficking,” according to the CDC.

What Are Common Misconceptions About Sex Trafficking?

Many myths surround sex trafficking. The U.S. Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTP) breaks down the most common:

MYTH: Only women and girls are vulnerable to sex trafficking.

FACT: According to the OTP, anyone can experience sex trafficking, including boys and men. Victims can be any age, race, gender, socioeconomic group, or nationality.

MYTH: If someone is paid or has consented to be in their initial situation, it’s not trafficking.

FACT: Initial consent to commercial sex before a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion is not relevant according to the OTP.

MYTH: Victims are desperate to escape their traffickers and will ask for help when they need it.

FACT: People who experience sex trafficking may not seek help due to factors such as shame, self-blame, fear or even specific instructions from traffickers regarding how to behave when interacting with others. They do not often self-identify and may not realize they have rights.

MYTH: Victims are held against their will using some form of physical restraint or bondage.

FACT: While some traffickers physically hold the people they exploit, it’s more common for them to use psychological control. Fear, trauma, drug addiction, threats against families, and a lack of options due to poverty and homelessness can all prevent someone from leaving. Some people are also manipulated into believing they are in love with their trafficker, which makes them resistant to seeking help.

MYTH: Trafficking always includes some form of travel or transportation across borders.

FACT: Sex trafficking doesn’t require movement or border crossing. If someone is forced to work or engage in commercial sex against their will, it is trafficking.

MYTH: Sex trafficking is a global problem. There is nothing I can do to help.

FACT: Such trafficking is reported in every state and territory in the U.S., in cities, suburbs, and rural towns. The OTP asks that you learn the signs and look beneath the surface when interacting with people. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 to report tips or learn how to help in your community.

How We Help Sex Abuse Victims 

Our national sexual abuse lawyers work one-on-one with survivors, offering a direct, personal level of care and discretion. We use our decades of experience battling big organizations to fight on behalf of survivors, aggressively taking on those responsible for causing pain and suffering. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, we can help.

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