The number of people joining social media is increasing every year. Just from 2015 to early 2016, there has already been a 17% increase of social media users.
Social media is making a name for itself in the younger generation. Teenagers are able to build their profile in ways to shape their reputations and only expose information they want the public to believe about them.
Not only is social media giving teenagers this power to portray their image a certain way to the world, but human traffickers are doing the same thing. Social media has opened up a whole new world for traffickers.
According to United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking is the act of gathering, moving, receiving, or keeping human beings by threat, force, coercion, or deception, for exploitative purposes. This includes “the exploitation of prostitution of other or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
The University of Southern California has done a study on how traffickers have adapted quickly to the 21st century global landscape. The study states, “While the rapid diffusion of digital technologies like mobile phones, social networking sites, and the Internet has provided significant benefits to society, new channels and opportunities for exploitation have also emerged. Increasingly, the business of human trafficking is taking place online and over mobile phones.”
Living in Southern California the term “sex trafficking” is not common in our vocabulary. I personally thought trafficking only happened in countries outside of the United States until I started doing more research.
There was a report done by Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force that talks about how human trafficking is done throughout Orange County in hotels and homes that start from the social media platform. This is also confirmed by the womens funding network who say that media is actually a popular marketing tool to lure in young women.
“Social and technological platforms allow predators to operate behind anonymity and false identies which is why they use it,” said Founder and CEO of Redeeming Love Charlene Heydorn. “If they can get a vulnerable young person to believe and trust them behind the veil of the internet, then manipulation and coercion become easy.”
Citizen for Community Values shows that the average age of victims is between 11-14. About 80% of the the victims are of women and 70% are trafficked into the sex industry.
“A majority of the victims that come to Community Service Programs are between the ages of 13-21. They were tricked into believing that they were doing work for a modeling agency and end up getting trapped by their trafficker and will do anything to keep their family out of danger,” said Community Service Programs Supervisor of the Human Trafficking Program Nikki Hutchinson.
These young girls are lured in by their trafficker’s fake social media account. They become excited about potenial opportunities with a “modeling agenecy” or even being involved romactically with a trafickker who is in fact posing as a loving partner.
“These girls begin to feel they are being valued, special, or that they can make a lot of money without their parent’s help,” said Rapha House International Director of Client Services Jen Osgood.
The different social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat now offer private messaging. The traffickers are easily able to reach out to potential victims through messages. According to News Trust, they say the growing trend in the United States right now is that traffickers use WhatsApp or Snapchat where messages disappear over time.
The website Backpage is also used by sex traffickers. Backpage is an adevertising website that provides a variety of different job listings that range from sells, bartending and different types of services. Backpage makes up 80 percent of all online prostitution and revenue. There are certain key words that the traffickers will use in the ads to grab a girl’s attention. The traffickers can also change the words from time to time.
“Traffickers really use any type of social media to their benefit and almost any social media can be used by traffickers to connect with potential victims,” said Osgood.
Some girls become connected to their trafficker through social media because they are seeking attention and affirmation. The trafficker then in a sense “rescues” them by assuring that they can give the young girls everything they are searching for.
“The trafficker becomes very good at brainwashing the younger girls into promising them a family, love and even allowing the girls to refer to them as ‘daddy,'” said Hutchinson.
I had the oppurtunity to talk with Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney and Human Trafficking Unit Coordinator, Jane Creighton about what she has seen in Los Angeles regarding sex trafficking through the different platforms of social media.
She starts off by telling me about an encounter she had a few years ago with a female college student who was caught up in the scam/manipulation of trafficking. This college student attended a good college and had family support. The victim did not come forward because she was threatened by her trafficker. The only way the victim got away is because her trafficker was caught up in a federal drug sting.
“We have to keep in mind after the victims are captured, their traffickers already have a sense of who they are through their social media accounts. In this case it would be advised that the girls need somehow detach from social media,” said Creighton.
Social media is growing every day and young girls need to become more cautious of how they expose themselves on social media and who they might interact with.
“Because of the many ways traffickers are able to get connected with young girls through social media, we must prevent trafficking through awareness and education,” said A21 Global Volunteer Coordinator, Katie Fillinger. “We have created presentations and curriculum for schools, orphanages, and universities. Young people are now being equipped with strategies to avoid becoming a victim of human trafficking.”
The goal of A21 is to use social media platforms for potential victims to prevent trafficking before it even begins. This education empoweres the rising generation to be aware of the media propaganda used by the sex trafickking industry.
Sex trafficking is happening daily, not only globally, but right here in Southern California. These statistics and knowledge do not need to depress us, but empower people to create change and be more aware of how they present themseleves on social media platforms.
The Columbus Dispatch says, “We have come a long way, but we can not be happy where we are.”