AMU Human Trafficking Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Understanding How Sex Trafficking Works Can Help Prevent It

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

The average person is unlikely to be aware of how human trafficking occurs, a lack of knowledge that contributes to increases in the criminal activity in the United States. If parents and children are not aware of the tactics traffickers use, they can easily become victimized.

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A common misconception is that victims of sex trafficking are typically kidnapped and forced into the illegal trade. The truth is that the vast majority of victims are groomed and coerced into sex trafficking over time as the traffickers gain the trust of their victims. A child who goes on social media and complains about her family or her home life can quickly become a target.

Social Media and the Internet Are Havens for Sex Traffickers

Social media and the internet are havens for sex traffickers who seek out vulnerabilities in children. However, there have also been many cases of children being approached at shopping malls and even in schools that lead to coercion and sex trafficking.

Once sex traffickers identify a target, they try to convince the intended victim that they care for her and want to meet her needs. The traffickers commonly tell the child that no one understands her like they do. They want to convince her that if she were to spend time with them her problems would go away. There have been many cases when this has resulted in the child running away to meet the traffickers.

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Children who have problems at home or little supervision are especially at risk. Once the victim meets the trafficker, he typically builds trust by buying her expensive clothes and other items.

During this Grooming Process, the Trafficker Typically Begins to Change the Relationship

During this grooming process, the trafficker typically begins to change the relationship and tells the victim that she needs to work off payment for the expensive gifts by having sex with strangers. This is when the child realizes that she is trapped. The trafficker likely already has her identification, cell phone, money, and personal belongings, and she is no longer free to leave.

Some traffickers convince their victims that if they really cared for the trafficker who has provided them with this new life they will help him make money through commercial sex, which is another form of coercion.

To a criminal, the difference between a child he can sell for sex and other illegal activities such as trafficking in drugs or guns is that those commodities can only be sold once. Once he sells his drugs or guns, he has to acquire more of them to make a profit.

However, a child may be sold for profit again and again. It is not uncommon for a child to be sold for commercial sex up to 40 times a day. In a Houston police sting in 2019, Operation Freedom resulted in the arrest of 64 sex traffickers. The investigation also led to the rescue of five adults and two juvenile girls ages 15-17.

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According to the Houston Chronicle, “charges filed in the operation include the promotion of prostitution, compelling prostitution, various narcotics charges, evading, fraud, forgery and failure to identify, according to officials with the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office. Each offense was linked to human trafficking, officials said.”

It is important to understand how human trafficking works so everyone can remain vigilant and recognize signs of a potential problem, such as a teenager who is developing a relationship with a stranger online or with someone whom the parents are unaware of.

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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