Sexual Predators & Human Trafficking: What signs to look for

By Jenna DeRosa 

verified by Psychology Today

Human trafficking is a rising issue in our society and impacts many people.  It is prevalent in all countries and even extends locally into your neighborhood.  The primary type of human trafficking involves children under 18 being persuaded into commercial sex services. A secondary type of trafficking involves adults (18 and over) being coerced into commercial sex through force, fraud and coercion.

  • There are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States.
  • Since 2007, there have been 629 cases of trafficking in Colorado
  • Since 2007, there have been 2,592 calls from victims and survivors

As human trafficking worsens and online predators have 24-hour availability to victims, falling victim to a predator has become increasingly common. It is very easy for youth to get involved without even knowing. Teaching children and teens internet safety and monitoring children’s online activity is especially important as this is how most predators interact with their victims.

In our own practice which is located in Arvada, Colorado (Road to Growth Counseling), we have seen the impact of this victimization. When asked, “with all the information you have been given about staying safe online, how did you fall into this situation?” Teens that have been victim to this in our practice have each said, “I didn’t think it happened here. Or, I never thought it would happen to me.  Or, I met them (the predator)  through a ‘friend’.”  Teens want to be loved and accepted by their peers.  They also believe they are invincible.  This is a dangerous combination when it comes to predators.  What we have heard time and again is that teens ARE giving out personnel information in chat rooms, social media apps and through their peers.

How can we teach our teens to stay safe?

There are common signs to watch out for.  Predators develop a relationship with a victim so that they feel safe. Grooming is the process predators use to slowly manipulate victims into gaining trust and control. What does this process look like? First, they begin by luring teenagers and adults with jobs, money, or drugs. Often times predators will pose as a legitimate employment service online to lure in teenagers in person. Teenagers that are alone and found on the street, mall, bus stations and gas stations are also prime suspects for sex trafficking.

Predators may also bring multiple gifts to the individual, show interest in their world, and give their victims the attention they are seeking. Predators may use subtle touches such as shoulder or back rubs to desensitize their victims to touch. After the grooming process is sufficiently in place, predators will make sexual advances, threats and use psychological manipulation to keep the individual quiet. They will often get their victim addicted to drugs or alcohol which will allow the predator to gain control of the individual. Online predators will create a fake identity to create a relationship with the desired victim. Once a relationship has been established and initial contact has been made (email, chat room, phone conversation) the predator may ask for face to face contact. This can lead to abducting their victim and forcing them into sex trafficking.

What population of victims are predators looking for?

Sex trafficking is not focused on just one group of individuals but is widespread.  Those who feel alone and those who need someone for support. Those who have run away or been “thrown away” from home, those who are homeless or have a history of abuse, or those in the foster care or child protective services system. Desirable victims are those that are vulnerable and looking for an escape which allow predators to create a relationship.

A predator doesn’t fit one specific description; a sex trafficker can be a woman, older male, and even someone from your school or someone who is employed by a larger system. This is why knowing the signs of a predator and knowing how to protect yourselves or children is necessary.

For more information on the risk of sex trafficking in Colorado, see the link below.


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