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  • Hadlie Kelly

Human Trafficking: Understanding and Prevention

Updated: Apr 11, 2021

Human trafficking is one of the most significant human rights abuses in current society. So, what is human trafficking? What are the warning signs? How can we prevent it? And what community resources are available to help? Let us dive in and see!

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is: the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labor, sexual slavery, drugs, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others.

For example, a child sold or abducted; and/or a child forced into child labor, begging, prostitution, marriage, or drug selling is human trafficking.

Human trafficking can also go as far as the selling and harvesting of humans’ organs, putting humans in cages, or shipping humans on a boat into slavery situations.

Also, to dispel false notions, it's important to say that:

83% of human trafficking victims are born and raised in the USA. This means that the overabundance of trafficking survivors are being tracked, trained and recruited right here in our backyard.

- 50% of all trafficking victims are 16 or younger when recruited (with orphaned, abandoned, or fostered teens being the most targeted).

- Approximately, 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States annually.

- In our area of Rock County Wisconsin, the most common types of trafficking are sex trafficking and drug trafficking.

(You can learn more about the statistics of human trafficking here.)

How do predators groom?

Anyone can be a groomer, and grooming a victim can take place for years or for short periods of time.

There are different approaches that groomers take depending on the age of the groomer and the age of the targeted person. The following are some common tactics used by groomers.

- To make themselves seem trustworthy, a groomer often will become close with the family of a targeted child.

- Some groomers will first form a romantic relationship, a mentor relationship, an authorial relationship, or a dominant and persistent relationship with the targeted person.

- A great deal of traffickers begin grooming through social media. 1 in 7 children receive unsolicited actions or approaches online each year by a trafficker.

(Learn more about online grooming here.)


To groom on social media, a stranger may do one of the following:

- Pretend to be younger/close to the same age as the targeted person - Show deep understanding with a problem in the targeted person's life and, give the targeted person "great" advice on how to handle that problem - Give the targeted person constant 24/7 attention - After only knowing each other for short time, offer to take the targeted person on an outing or a trip - Ask the targeted person to get a tattoo and/or offer to pay for the tattoo (the tattoo is then used as a mark for the trafficker)


Children and teens who are being groomed may be brainwashed into keeping secrets and not telling the truth to their parents/guardians. Children and teens may say they have been told to keep a secret. They may also say they've been told that their parents/guardians will not understand the connection they have with the groomer.

Here are more signs and red flags to watch for:

- The child/teen is secretive about how they are spending their time socially and online

- They have an older girlfriend or boyfriend

- They randomly have more money or new things (like new phones, clothing, etc.)

- They get caught drinking or using drugs

- They are spending less time on their devices

- They become more irritable when asked questions

- They are acting withdrawn or upset

- They have a mark/tattoo that came out of nowhere (perhaps that they try to cover up)

- They start using sexual language that is not appropriate for their age

Coming Forward

Because of these grooming techniques, many victims do not come forward. They may be brainwashed, scared, unsure who to trust, and unable to tell their full story because they do not see themselves as a victim.

Many survivors have been recruited through false promises and kept under high security living quarters. Or they have a person from their trafficker with them at all times that reports back to the trafficker their every move.

Traffickers may also use drugs to control the targeted person. To make it extremely hard for the survivor to leave, a trafficker will force someone to start using drugs and then use that high or withdrawal as control. This makes any survivor scared to seek help.

Other survivors who come forward often show signs of being trafficked without even having to share their story out loud. These survivors often appear malnourished and have limited to no personal possessions with them. And they show many physical and/or sexual abuse signs like bruising, cuts, physical restraint scars, paranoia, and STI’s.

Theses survivors often are full of fear, depression, and anxiety. They refrain from reaching out because of a deep, persistent fear that they will be discovered at any moment. This fear can be so intense that, even years later, often trafficking survivors struggle to tell their loved ones what happened to them during their time being trafficked.


Preventing human trafficking is crucial, especially for children and teenagers growing up today. Thankfully, there are several interventions that can be implemented to help stop human trafficking.


The key to preventing human trafficking is education. Parents and guardians need to know the risk factors and warning signs of human trafficking. After learning these, they can teach their children and teenagers how to stay safe online and teach them how to tell the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one.


Next, it is crucial for children and teens to know which adults they can trust. They need to know which adults they can go and speak to about their problems and issues. Then, with a trusted adult, conversation may smoothly transition into discussing the red flags and warnings signs of human trafficking as well as how to prevent and stop human trafficking.


Parents and guardians also need to be emotionally available for their children/teens and to create a safe space so that their children and teenagers can come to them with any issue they might have.

Being emotionally available for children and teens is a huge step in preventing the emotional void that contributes to trafficking. To create that safe space, be supportive, open minded, understanding, and kind - even when you feel irritated, frustrated, angry, or overwhelmed.