Each of our survivors has a different favorite flavor of ice cream, go-to playlist, and most loved tee shirt or pair of comfy pants. They are unique in almost every way.
What they all share is the courage and bravery they exhibit every day in overcoming the painful experiences that have tried in vain to define them.
Our survivors also share similar traumas, which happened during their time in a life of trafficking. But most also share difficult life experiences, which happened before.
Human trafficking, and more specifically sex trafficking, most frequently happens to those in our community who are already vulnerable and suffering, and who don’t have the support or resources they need.
We never want to trivialize that suffering by clinically categorizing these painful experiences, but we also feel compelled to explain some of the key risk factors that can lead those who are most vulnerable into abuse and exploitation.
This piece will explore some of those common risk factors so we can all work together to find and serve isolated neighbors before a trafficker exploits their vulnerabilities.
Traffickers take advantage of and exploit isolation and existing trauma
Unlike what you see in movies and pop culture, traffickers are not lurking outside of shopping malls or airports, waiting to randomly kidnap people. Instead, they’re far more cunning and deceptive, identifying vulnerable people and building slow and seemingly genuine relationships with them.
Traffickers discover a weakness or a need, and then they offer what feels like a solution or help. This often includes things like housing, illicit substances, access to food and other necessities, or a relationship and a sense of belonging. Using psychological and circumstantial manipulation, traffickers become indispensable, and then they move in with a request for a sexual service or act, in exchange for the benefits they provide.
Given this approach, the people who are often the most susceptible to a trafficker are those who are experiencing vulnerabilities like homelessness, addiction, poverty, or isolation and estrangement from family relationships.
- 66% of trafficking victims had a substance abuse disorder that made them susceptible to trafficking.
- 64% of victims reported being homeless, or living in unstable living conditions, prior to entering the life.
- One in five runaway and homeless youth experience sex trafficking.
While some of these traumas and circumstances can happen to many or all of us, they are more commonly part of generational suffering and poverty. When generations of a family struggle with addiction, for instance, children and young adults are particularly vulnerable not only to personal addiction, but also to external exploitation.
That’s why is vitally important that Jacksonville, and every community in Florida and beyond, is ready to respond to the need for safe and affordable housing, recovery services, support and oversight for children in foster care, resources for neighbors with uncertain immigration statuses, and programs for isolated and at-risk youth.
Most trafficking-involved individuals are young females
Beyond existing isolation and trauma, there are other trends or patterns in the data of who most often experiences sex trafficking.
For instance, the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC) has identified that 89% of human trafficking victims in the United States are female. Additionally, younger people are much more susceptible.
Of those cases reported, 30% were minors and 90% were under 40. While not every one of these individuals was sexually exploited, 84% of the total victims of human trafficking in the Unites States were sex trafficked.
Involvement with foster care or the juvenile justice system is a key risk factor
It’s estimated that 60% of the children liberated from trafficking have been involved in group homes or the foster care system.
The child welfare and juvenile justice systems often move children around from place to place, making permanent relationships and necessary attachments difficult. Additionally, displaced children have higher rates of mental illness and vulnerabilities to multiple forms of abuse.
- 66% of youth in Juvenile Justice have diagnosable mental illnesses with half suffering from chronic, multiple and dangerous conditions.
- It’s estimated that 80% of children in foster care have mental health concerns.
- 37% of American children are reported to protective services before they turn 18. Of those, on average, 207,000 have been involved in the foster care system.
Because children who are displaced from their biological families all experience trauma, this is a population our communities must focus on supporting and monitoring. This happens through both governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
It also creates an opportunity for those of us with space and love to share to provide safe, loving foster homes for children who need someone to see and care. Often, that’s the best antidote to the anxiety and isolation that makes them vulnerable.
Minorities are at a greater risk
In the United States, African American or Black minors and young adults are at a disproportionate risk of becoming sex trafficking victims. This is due to many generational and underlying injustices and traumas that often include the other risk factors we’ve already explored, including addictions, poverty, and displacement.
According to the numbers, 40% of sex trafficking victims are Black.
The LGBTQ+ community is also considered at greater risk, due to social isolation and the greater likelihood of estrangement from family and consequent attempts to run away from home. Though, specific numbers are underreported, making it difficult to account for an accurate percentage of cases.
Similarly, First Nations women face greater risks. While numbers here are similarly underreported, a study of four major cities revealed that as many as 40% of the women liberated from sex trafficking identified as First Nations.
The bottom line is that members of underrepresented or minority groups, particularly those who are stigmatized or marginalized, are at a much greater risk of experiencing trafficking.
The causes behind systemic challenges like this one can feel overwhelming, and it’s hard to know how to help, but we can all start with making our city a safe place for all people to live, work, and grow up.
We all carry the burden of caring for the vulnerable
If we can learn anything from looking more deeply at who is the most susceptible to a trafficker’s manipulation, it’s that we’re all responsible for making our community a safer place for vulnerable neighbors.
When we can make Jacksonville a place where housing insecurity is a fact of history, when the stigma associated with substance abuse can be replaced by compassionate services, and when youth in the juvenile justice and foster care systems have advocates looking out for them, we will protect the most vulnerable among us from human trafficking and other abuse.
That responsibility isn’t just ours as staff and volunteers at Rethreaded. It’s our burden as fellow human beings and as citizens of Jacksonville.
We welcome your partnership with us, whether in transforming our city or in rethreading the lives of survivors. We have a lot of work to do but, together, we can accomplish a lot more than our staff can do alone.