Social media allows teens and kids to connect with virtually anyone in the world, creating a gateway for human trafficking predators.
Social media allows teens and kids to connect with virtually anyone in the world, creating a gateway for human trafficking predators.
Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry worldwide and the average age of sex trafficking victims are reported to be 11 to 14 years old. There are total of 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally according to polarisproject.org. 

Winnemucca Domestic Violence Services (WDVS) KaLee Young advocates for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse and sex trafficking. 

Sex trafficking occurs when someone uses force, fraud or coercion to cause a commercial sex act with an adult or causes a minor to commit a commercial sex act. Young reported that there has been at least three sex trafficking cases in Winnemucca within the last two years. In a rural area like Winnemucca, Young said internet safety is very important for sex trafficking prevention and in larger cities predators may spend time at malls and where target victims may be. 

“Scouting is where they (predators) look for signs — especially on social media where the kids who share their whole lives on social media are the easiest targets,” said Young. 

Young advises parents to know which social media applications their kids are using and to be cautious, with mention of the following apps: Discord (game chat app), Kik (anonymous messaging app), Whisper (anonymous confessions with geographic privacy risks), Periscope, PartyLine, Calculator# (secret photo/video/message app), Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram, Tinder, Grindr, dating websites, Sugar babies, etc.  

“None of our kids at this point are even safe and it’s so scary,” said Young. 

Young said trafficking victims often get arrested for prostitution or drug use which can cause shame and leave the victim with little to no resources to help recover from drug addiction, sexually transmitted diseases, post traumatic stress disorder and mental health challenges. 

Reported warning signs of sex trafficking include unexplained burn marks, bruises, cuts, absences from school or truancies, less appropriately dressed, fatigue, withdrawn or depressed, unexplained extra money, tattoos, older boyfriends with expensive gifts, etc. 

Young said self-critical teens are especially vulnerable to predators who shower them with compliments and gifts. Predators will sometimes use scouts to meet up with victims with the intent to kidnap them, other times they will form a relationship with a potential victim and shower them with gifts and later expect the victim to do inappropriate things with someone else for money and then use the shame as blackmail in the future. 

Traffickers also use drugs as a leash by helping young victims get addicted to a substance, allowing for more control over the victim who becomes addicted. Young said this makes it harder for victims to be able to ask for help and receive services. 

“The easiest way to control someone is to control their addiction and then we’re going to look at them not as trafficking victims but as drug addicts and it makes them less credible and harder to report,” said Young. 

Young said many victims don’t recognize their situation as being a victim, they see it as a way of life and survival. 

“Victims aren’t always happy to be rescued, for some of these victims it’s like a Stockholm syndrome and they don’t identify as being sex trafficked,” said Young. “Don’t expect them to look at you like you’re saving them.” 

The 24/7 text or call WDVS advocate hotline is 775-421-1028. 

Young recommended the website love146.org for parents and teens to learn about child trafficking and prevention education.