A mother realizes that she hasn’t seen one of her daughter’s friends in a while. She asks her daughter why that is and learns that they had a falling out. She is sad to hear this because she knows the friend’s parents have to work a lot of the time and she enjoyed being able to provide this young girl with the occasional meal. The next time she drops her daughter off at school, she notices the friend getting out of a car that she has never seen before. She knows this girl would usually head over to her classmates in the schoolyard, smiling, excited to see them after the weekend. Today, she walks into school with her head down. 

In order to exploit someone, traffickers will use different tactics to lure and groom them. This can happen to anyone and there are a variety of factors out of an individual’s control that make them vulnerable to trafficking. 

Sex trafficking recruitment is insidious, and early intervention can make a big difference in the outcome of this person’s life. Often, recognizing the signs that someone you know is being lured and groomed means looking for a tiny series of events that indicate a big change in that person’s life. These signs can be difficult to recognize, even by those in the best positions to help. Here are some common signs that regularly occur when someone is being lured or groomed for sex trafficking. 

Behavioural Changes

General behavioural changes are common with a victim who is being lured and groomed. Family and friends of the victim may notice something is “off”, such as being withdrawn or having increased secretiveness. Does it seem like they are on their phone more often but hide their screen whenever you’re close by? Do they take excessive pictures of themselves, keep their phone face down when not in use, and keep the volume down or off on their phone? Do they seem more tired than usual or mention an ongoing lack of sleep? Have they had a falling out with the people they usually surround themselves with? When an individual is being groomed, their behaviour changes may be vague. 

Personality Changes

Does it seem like this person suddenly glamourizes a fast-paced, risky lifestyle? Do they seem to be swept up with materialistic things in a way they weren’t before? Sex traffickers often groom their victims with promises of a better life filled with expensive gifts, designer clothes, and job opportunities. These promises are a ruse and quickly fall away once the victim has been isolated from their loved ones, and the Trafficking begins.

Personal Style Changes

One sign that someone is being lured or groomed is a drastic change in personal style and grooming habits. If the individual you’re concerned about is taking an unusual interest in their appearance, this can be a red flag. Is she getting manicures more often than usual or applying significantly more makeup? Are her clothes becoming provocative or out of character as well? These personal style and personal grooming habits hypersexualize a victim, enabling her to be viewed as an object instead of a person.  

Expensive Gifts

Something that frequently happens when a girl is being groomed for sex trafficking is that she will be given gifts. This often happens at the beginning to trick the girl into believing that her trafficker(s) have a lot to offer her and that her life will be better off with them in it.  Receiving expensive gifts also puts her in “debt” to the gift giver. Does this person suddenly have items that she would otherwise not be able to afford, like a pricey handbag or new designer clothes? When asked, is she vague about these items and who is giving them to her? Is she referencing a new “boyfriend” as the individual showering her with gifts, but you have never met this person? 

New Male Friends or Boyfriends

Does your friend suddenly have a new boyfriend but you’ve never met them? Is this new boyfriend taking up all of their time, showering them with expensive gifts, and do they seem controlling? Have you suddenly been seeing a lot less of your friend? They might have an immediate, intense focus on a new boyfriend while their long-term relationships fall by the wayside. While some of these habits can feel normal in a new relationship, if you observe a new boyfriend in conjunction with others on this list, it’s a red flag.  These pimps will first pose as a boyfriend before a person is forced into prostitution, exotic dancing, massage, and/or pornography. Traffickers can also pose as older male and female friends to the victim. If the age difference feels just a bit too big and you notice other concerning indicators, this could be a red flag.

If you recognize these indicators of luring and grooming in someone that you know, please consider contacting the Human Trafficking National Hotline (1-833-900-1010).

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