AMU Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Human Traffickers and Understanding Their Psychology

Human trafficking is an especially vile crime. Victims are not only robbed of their freedom by human traffickers, but they are also robbed of their dignity, sense of self-worth and personal value.

These feelings occur because the victims are placed in unspeakable situations at the hands of human traffickers. Sex trafficking victims are considered a reusable product, so they may be exploited more than 15 times a day.

What Type of Person Is Responsible for Human Trafficking?

To understand the psychology of human traffickers, it is necessary to ask the question, “What type of person is responsible for this type of crime?”

Human traffickers are different than other criminals. For instance, some criminals commit crimes of opportunity, such as robberies. Others supply illegal drugs to addicts who beg for the substance that poisons them.

Human traffickers become involved in human trafficking while being well aware that it destroys their victims’ mental and physical health. For the past two decades, I have been involved in counter human trafficking efforts, and most of that work involved federal law agency operations. Through interdiction operations, I had the opportunity to come face-to-face with many human traffickers.

Now, I am a criminologist and study human traffickers. I study human traffickers to gain insight into the mindsets of the heartless people who knowingly destroy peoples’ lives.

Characteristics of Human Traffickers

One of the main characteristics of human traffickers is their ability to exert control over their victims. This control occurs through coercion, manipulation, and physical force.

For instance, some human traffickers are pathological liars and convince unsuspecting victims that the trafficker has their best interests in mind. Often, a human trafficker pretends to be romantically interested in the victim.

Another characteristic of human traffickers is that they are experts at manipulation. To dehumanize their victims, human traffickers commonly refer to their victims as “meat” or “cattle.” They also provide nicknames for the victims instead of using their real names, brand victims with tattoos, and sexually abuse their victims.

Interview with a Former Gang Member with Insight into Human Trafficking

I have spoken to many former and current gang members before and after their incarceration, and some were involved in human trafficking. In one example, I spoke with a former gang member from Los Angeles.

I had the opportunity to interview him following his incarceration and deportation to Central America. In this case, we sat in a Central American restaurant, and he provided valuable insight into the world of human trafficking.

This former gang member observed different levels of human trafficking and the manipulation and coercion common among human traffickers. He also provided valuable insight into the manipulation that exists in stash houses located in the U.S.

This former gang member explained that girls were kept in the back of the house. The yard of the stash house would have animals, such as chickens and pigs.

Traffickers would slaughter the animals, get covered in blood and appear before the captive girls. They would tell their victims that the blood came from a girl who attempted to escape and threaten the other girls with death if anyone tried to escape from the stash house.

An Account of Coercion by a Human Trafficker

In a human trafficking report, a non-government organization (NGO) once interviewed a human trafficker about his human trafficking activities in Costa Rica. This human trafficker discussed similar forms of exploitation and coercion.

The human trafficker stated that human trafficking “is like dealing with meat.” In regard to sex trafficking, he said, “Everything is by order. All the girls are asked for beforehand.”

The trafficker explained, “I would receive for every girl that I took out of the country, they would give me $5,000. If it was a special request, I would receive $15,000-$25,000.”

To highlight the callous nature of traffickers and how they use coercion, the trafficker shared a particularly disturbing incident. The trafficker stated, “One time I was with a friend on a mountain and we had around 85 girls, and you should’ve heard all those girls screaming all day. 

“And we were only two people controlling them. So to get them to shut up, we had to grab one, and with the example of just one, they all went quiet. Because we had to do something very bad to her to get them to be quiet. We raped her. It wasn’t something that I can be proud of.”

The Implications of Human Trafficking for the United States

While this incident occurred in Costa Rica, trafficking in Central America has implications for the U.S. Over 7 million people have illegally migrated to the U.S. since 2021, according to Customs and Border Patrol.

Human smuggling to the United States from Central America to the U.S. is occurring at unprecedented levels, and human trafficking victims are being moved to the U.S.

I have spoken with many human trafficking victims after their arrival in the U.S., and their horrific stories are consistent. Human trafficking often begins with being groomed by human traffickers and then victims are trapped in horrible situations through coercion, physical abuse, and mental abuse.

Human Traffickers Are Everywhere

Human trafficking is not just an international problem – it exists in all 50 states. Human traffickers are in urban areas and quiet rural areas, as well as hotels, neighborhoods, truck stops, nightclubs, and schools.

In fact, the majority of sex trafficking in the United States involves victims who are U.S. citizens. Sadly, many victims don’t reach out for help because they are too afraid of retaliation.

Anyone who suspects human trafficking is occurring in their community should contact local law enforcement agencies. Another resource is the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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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