A young girl has been dating her boyfriend for about a month now. She is 14 and her parents do not want her to date yet. They think she is out with a friend. In just a month she has fallen in love. One day, he tells her he is having money problems, and has a way for her to help so they can be together. He drops her off at a motel for the first time. When she leaves the motel, she feels ashamed. She lied to her parents about who she was spending time with and thinks what happened is her fault. She tells her boyfriend she wants to go home and that she can’t do this again. He shows her pictures of what she just did in the motel room and threatens to post them online if she disobeys his orders. 

In the luring and grooming stages of trafficking, a Victim will likely be isolated from her support system, coming to rely solely on the trafficker in pursuit of the future he has promised her. This ensures that when the trafficking begins, she has no one safe and caring to turn to. Trafficking is not a choice, but because of how traffickers manipulate their victims, she feels that it is her fault that she has ended up in this situation and is too ashamed to ask for help. All she chose to do was go on a date with someone she thought cared about her. 

Often, the first thing a trafficker will do is re-establish their Victim as a product to be sold under a new identity.  This involves changing their name and stripping them of everything that makes them the person they used to be. To exit, a Victim must first be found. Tracking her new identity can mean following her through a series of online ads that her trafficker is using to sell her, a task that proves especially difficult when friends and family do not realize she is being trafficked in the first place. 

Once someone has become entrenched in trafficking, reaching them, and providing them with the resources they need to exit the situation they are now in becomes increasingly difficult. Traffickers know how to isolate, manipulate, and control their Victims, preventing her from seeking helping and refusing orders.

The sexually exploitative acts that Victims of trafficking are subjected to are atrocious. Anyone subjected to these crimes will experience physical and psychological trauma. Many victims are minors when they are first recruited and trafficked and do not have the emotional tools to process what is happening to them. When there is no room for a flight or fight response, dissociation becomes her only option, and it is often taken to the extreme. This response to trauma makes exiting difficult, as she becomes frozen in a lifestyle riddled with abuse.  

When a Victim wants to exit, traffickers use coercion to prevent them from leaving. Fear of violence being committed against oneself or one’s loved ones is a major barrier to exiting. In the luring and grooming stages of trafficking, a trafficker will learn as much personal information about a victim as possible. This will later be used against her as he threatens to hurt her or her family to coerce her into submission. Physical abuse is commonplace in the life of a Victim. As a result, she is extremely afraid of the consequences associated with disobeying, let alone exiting completely.

On top of the many barriers to exiting already experienced by Victims of trafficking, COVID-19 also made exiting increasingly difficult. Situations for vulnerable persons became more desperate over the last two years, and many resources previously available, such as shelters, became inaccessible with quarantine and lockdown procedures in place. For Victims of sex trafficking, this often meant being stuck inside with one’s trafficker. When there is nowhere else to go, Traffickers provide and control housing, making exiting seem impossible.

Although there are numerous barriers to exiting, it is never impossible. With the right kinds of specialized support, women and girls impacted by sex trafficking can experience freedom. However, there are currently not enough of these specialized services to meet the needs of all of the women and girls who need them, and for those services that do exist, like our own, funding for the resources needed to provide support is always an issue. This is another huge barrier to exiting. 

If you or someone you know needs assistance please contact the Human Trafficking National Hotline (1-833-900-1010) for help.

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