Any child may be vulnerable to a person who promises to meet his/her emotional and physical needs, especially runaway children, those who have been previously sexually abused, those with disabilities (e.g., mental health, cognitive, learning), and those experiencing disruption at home (e.g., substance abuse, domestic violence, loss of a parent).
A trafficker/pimp targets and lures vulnerable children into the commercial sex industry using psychological manipulation to make them to believe he loves and cares for their well-being. After establish trust and allegiance, the pimp uses physical control such as threats, violence, or drug addiction to make the victim feel trapped and powerless. This “trauma bond” is difficult to break and ensures the victim will remain loyal even in the face of severe victimization.
The following are some red flags that indicate a child may be a victim of commercial sexual exploitation:
- History of running away or current status as a runaway
- Unexplained absences from home or residential program
- Frequently truant from school
- Visible signs of abuse (e.g., cigarette burns on body but not face)
- History of multiple sexual transmitted infections and/or pregnancies
- Behaviors consistent with PTSD
- Has a tattoo that is reluctant to explain
- Has new “friends” who are older teens or adults
- Involved with a male who is significantly older and/or gang involved
- Uses language from “the life”
- Disconnected from family or other caregivers
- Lost interest in age-appropriate activities
- Upgraded physical appearance (e.g., clothing, jewelry, hair) that cannot be explained by family financial situation or job