Human trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerability. While anyone can be a victim of trafficking, there are certain vulnerabilities that traffickers seek to exploit. Listed below are major factors that lead people to being susceptible to various forms of human trafficking.
1. Foster Youth
The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports that 50%-90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system (Child Welfare Information Gateway). Instability creates opportunities for traffickers to reach out and bond with vulnerable children. These relationships are then used against the child to initiate sexual activity (Thorn).
The LGBTQ+ community is a large target for traffickers. Some of their specific vulnerabilities include: lack of support from family or peers, homelessness, discrimination, and higher rates of abuse. Transgender and other gender nonconforming youth have additional issues receiving access to shelters separated by binary gender making them even more vulnerable to trafficking (IOFA and Courtney’s House).
3. American Indian / Alaska Native Communities
Native Americans are victimized by human trafficking at rates higher than that of the general population. Lisa Brunner of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, summarized the problem:
“Native women experience violent victimization at a higher rate than any other U.S. population. Congressional findings show that Native American and Alaska Native women are raped 34.1%, more than 1 in 3, will be raped in their lifetime, 64%, more than 6 in 10, will be physically assaulted. Non-Indians commit 88% of violent crimes against Native women. Given the above statistical data and the historical roots of violence against Native women, the level of human trafficking given the sparse data collected can only equate to the current epidemic levels we face within our tribal communities and nations.”
-Lisa Brunner (2013).
4. Individuals with Disabilities
People with disabilities are especially vulnerable to human trafficking (U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report). Individuals with disabilities may require a caregiver to meet their basic needs and this caregiver can take advantage of this dependency and force them into prostitution or labor. Traffickers may also target individuals with disabilities because of the social discrimination and prejudice they face. This can cause authorities and even their own family and friends to not believe victims when they report their abuse. This is especially true for victims with disabilities that affect intellectual, cognitive, or communication functions or those individuals with mental health diagnoses (Polaris).
5. Undocumented Migrants
Victims of labor trafficking have been found among U.S. migrant and seasonal farmworkers, restaurant workers, and as domestic servants. These populations include men, women, families, or children as young as five years old who harvest crops and raise animals in fields or work in packing plants, nurseries, orchards, and kitchens. Foreign nationals may also be victims of sex trafficking. Massage parlors, strip clubs, nail salons, and other businesses may pose as legitimate businesses, but actually, be run by human traffickers. Victims in these establishments are primarily controlled through debt, blackmail, and intense psychological manipulation. Almost every aspect of their life is controlled — where they live, what they eat, where they go, what they look like, and who they are allowed to talk to (Engage Together).
6. Runaway and Homeless Youth
Runaway youth are often approached by traffickers at transportation hubs, shelters, or other public spaces. These traffickers play the role of a boyfriend or significant other using feigned affection and manipulation to elicit commercial sex or services from the victim. Runaway or homeless youth may be compelled to exchange sex for basic survival necessities, such as food, shelter, or protection (Engage Together).