AMU Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Organized Crime Original Public Safety

Gangs Have Set Their Sights on Human Trafficking Victims

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University

Human trafficking continues to be a major problem in the United States. With an estimated 40 million victims of human trafficking globally, it is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of victims in the United States. Fortunately, this crime that devastates the lives of its victims is getting more attention these days. However, to mitigate human trafficking in the United States much more awareness and actions are needed.

The Role of Gangs in Human Trafficking

Now one of the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprises, human trafficking typically involves victims who are exploited for sex, forced labor, and domestic servitude. In such a quickly growing criminal enterprise, it is important to examine who are responsible for this exploitation.

Gangs have an increasingly more significant role in human trafficking and trafficking rings. These gangs have recognized the profitability of sex trafficking because, unlike drugs or guns that only account for one sale, sex trafficking victims can be sold multiple times in the same day. Coupled with the steadily increase of gang membership over the past 10 years, gang involvement in human trafficking has become a major threat to their victims.

Gang Exploitation of Human Trafficking Victims

Youths who run away are especially at risk of commercial sexual exploitation. This is true because youths often run away due to problems at home, bullying, or neglect. These are exactly the vulnerabilities that gangs exploit because a gang gives these young people a false sense of family that was lacking at home. There is often perceived protection from bullying or neglect by being associated with a gang. People who have experienced violence and trauma that results in psychological problems are also targeted.

[Related: More Gangs Are Running Sex Trafficking Rings]

Abuse issues create a vulnerability causing trafficking victims to feel that exploitation is a normal part of their life. Gangs that recognize these vulnerabilities will approach a target claiming to be able to provide protection when their real intent is to exploit the target. After the gang has provided shelter and protection, which is referred to as “grooming,” the victim is forced into sex trafficking to pay off his or her debt to the gang.

Runaways placed into the sex trafficking trade by a gang may not realize they are victims, especially if they are engaging in commercial sex acts voluntarily. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, anyone under the age of 18 who is engaged in a commercial sex act is considered a human trafficking victim. Consent is not a factor. It is unlikely that runaways are aware of that.

Girls recruited by a gang for sex trafficking might see themselves as members of the gang instead of exploited victims. However, females are considered “property” of the gang. Most gangs in the United States do not accept female members. Therefore, females who accompany gang members are likely to be prostituted.

Providing Support to Human Trafficking Victims

It is important that human trafficking victims are made aware that support is available to help them escape their situation. Such support can include shelters, protection from their traffickers, and resources such as counseling and other services.

Medical professionals, first responders, and community members may be able to help human trafficking victims make the first step to seek help. When human trafficking is suspected or a victim wishes to seek help, the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 is always available. The Human Trafficking Hotline is open 24 hours a day. Victims can text “help” 233733 at any time to reach the Human Trafficking Hotline.

About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University and has more than two decades in the field of homeland security. His expertise includes human trafficking, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction, and intelligence gathering. Jarrod recently conducted in-country research in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He has served as a consultant and speaker to the key stakeholders in law enforcement, defense forces, and criminal justice in Belize on the topics of human trafficking and drug trafficking.

In late 2020, Jarrod served as a consultant for the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime on human trafficking and organized crime in Central America. His contributions will be reflected on the worldwide Organized Crime Index that will be published in 2021. His research on drug trafficking was published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report in 2019.

Most recently, Jarrod presented at the 2020 International Human Trafficking Conference where he presented his research on human trafficking in South America. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Central America, and Europe on the topics of human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, police responses to domestic terrorism, and various topics in policing. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for consulting and speaking engagements.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. For more information on Jarrod and links to his social media and website, check out

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