Who are the traffickers?
The traffickers in street based commercial sex situations are often individual trafficker, more commonly known as “pimps”. These traffickers may vary in their relationship to the victim, but are similar in the tactics they employ to recruit, control and exploit their victims. Some traffickers may only be exploiting one or a couple victims, while others maintain control over a larger group of adults or minors.
Traffickers in street based commercial sex seek to make their victims dependent on them by creating a false sense of romantic relationship, or become a care taker or father-figure. When multiple victims are working for the same controller, a sense of family becomes critical in the maintenance of the exploitative relationship. Traffickers use these relationship bonds to compel victims into providing commercial sex.
Traffickers in street-based commercial sex settings often create extreme systems of behavioral expectations with harsh and often unpredictable punishments. For example, victims may not allowed to walk on the sidewalks, but instead walk along the street. They may not be allowed to look other traffickers in the eye or may be required to take on a completely new persona and identity. Punishments have been reported to be extremely harsh, including physical beatings, sexual assault or torture techniques.
Who are the victims?
Victims are typically U.S. citizens, including adults, girls, boys, and transgender youth. Although less common, immigrants may also be victimized.
Human trafficking spans all victim demographics and the vulnerabilities traffickers exploit are unique and specific to each victim (e.g. a developmental disorder, past child abuse, cultural beliefs). However, the NHTRC sees recurring vulnerabilities among sex trafficking victims in street based commercial sex. Some examples of these include (and are not limited by):
Homelessness: Runaway and homeless youth may be particularly at risk for sex trafficking. A study by Covenant House found that 48% of interviewed youth that had experienced sex trafficking had initially engaged in commercial sex because they did not have a place to stay. In addition, LGBTQ youth are disproportionately overrepresented in the number of minor sex trafficking victims (20-40 percent, compared 5-7 percent of the general youth population).
Prior Violence and Assault: Individuals who have experienced prior sexual assault and violence may have increased risk of sex trafficking, according to a study by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Victims who experience repeated violent acts may unconsciously normalize victimization and/or be unable to see alternative possibilities. Victims of street based commercial sex are known to be vulnerable to violence and assault from buyers. Although victims of sex trafficking in street based commercial sex are commonly monitored by a trafficker, the trafficker is often less visible and therefore more difficult for police to investigate.
When does it become trafficking?
Street based commercial sex becomes trafficking when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to maintain control over the victim and to cause the victim to believe that s/he has no other choice but to continue providing commercial sex. Examples of frequently used means of control include:
Force: Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to the residence; restrictions on movement and communication to family and friends; forced abortions; lack of medical treatment or reproductive health.
Fraud: False promises of a better life through the trafficker presenting as a boyfriend or caretaker figure.
Coercion: Threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community; confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents; forced dependency on the trafficker; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers used as threats; cycle of rewards and punishments; threats of police involvement and arrest; threats of deportation if victim is a foreign national.
* An individual under the age of 18 engaged in commercial sex is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.