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How Online Communities Unknowingly Help Traffickers

January 9, 2020

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Enjoying communication with others online is supposed to be fun and a new way for people to meet others. Whether they are using a gaming site, social media platform, or dating site, they are looking to make a positive connection. Unfortunately, these platforms also attract some of the most vicious online predators: human traffickers. 

What is human trafficking and sex trafficking? 

Human trafficking refers to a number of various definitions of acts and behaviors when one person is taken hostage by another. In most cases, children, women, and men are trafficked for the purpose of sexual labor and sold as slaves known as sex trafficking. Others are trafficked for labor, forcing them to work for minimum or no wage daily. Many organizations have worked together over the last two decades to combat this growing crime as it begins to swarm the globe. Below are some of the ways that online communities unknowingly help traffickers select and track their victims for sex trafficking. 

Gathering Information

Targeting young children, these traffickers are taking advantage of public profiles that are full of information about their victims. Everything from their location to their interests is posted and used as ammunition for manipulation. These platforms and sites request information that ranges in musical interests, school, work, and philosophies. While these unknowing communities are looking to bring people together, they are accidentally offering traffickers the information they need to develop a bond with their potential victims otherwise known as grooming

Chatting with a Trafficker

In the gaming world, chat rooms are critical to building and establishing relationships between gamers. Traffickers are able to infiltrate these chat rooms and pose as a gamer by making a connection with their target through a mutual game. This grooming requires them to build a relationship and establish a bond so that they move to send pictures and speaking with voice. These relationships can be often be disguised as platonic, while they gather the information they need to locate the victim.

Social Media Trafficking

With children having the ability to create a profile on social media, they are often targeted specifically through these sites. By entering a wrong birthday, they are able to upload a profile, stocked with their picture, location information, and status updates that gives information regarding their daily routine. They also look for those that are vulnerable, showing signs of being alone and seeking some form of interaction. Traffickers often lurk in their private or direct messages, attempting to lure the children to their home or invite themselves over when their parents are not home. 

Dating Site Trafficking

Many members of dating sites have turned to this type of dating because of previous emotional trauma and are more vulnerable than others. Traffickers take advantage of this situation by meeting men and women on these dating sites and take their livelihood hostage so that they have no other choice than to work for them in the sex trafficking world. 

Moving from Virtual to Physical

After they have begun the grooming process with these victims, they begin encouraging a physical meet up, that will take the "relationship" to a new level. Whether they have created an intimate or romantic relationship or grooming under the guise of friendship, attempting to meet the victim is next on the list. These social media platforms or dating sites may "recommend" locations to meet through their advertising that is found in SEO searches or as a partnership with the dating site.

Once the traffickers meet their victims, they will often kidnap them and remove them from their home or location, managing all aspects of their life from that point forward. Because they have developed a relationship with their targets, they know their weaknesses and how to manipulate them to comply with their wishes. 

Moving Forward with Human Trafficking and Online Communities

Knowing the ease that these traffickers have with finding and targeting children and others for sex trafficking, it is critical for online communities to establish some type of security to protect individuals in the future. Children, women, and men should also be aware of the information they are providing online when interacting with another gamer, person, or potential date. Anyone that is asking too many personal questions is a sign that the conversation needs to be halted and the site administration should be alerted.