There is a complex abusive relationship established between a trafficker/pimp and the adolescent victim. A trafficker/pimp targets vulnerable youth such as chronic runaways and adolescents with histories of abuse. These youth are usually easier to manipulate and have vulnerable characteristics such as low self-esteem and a strong desire for protection and love. Traffickers/pimps use calculated and sophisticated recruitment tactics to gain the trust of their victims. The following list outlines confirmed tactics used by trafficker/pimps during the recruitment phase. The order of tactics may vary and recruitment may not include all or any of the trends listed below. It is important to note that during this phase the trafficker/pimp presents as a friend, boyfriend, or caretaker – his role and agenda as an abuser/exploiter is often hidden.
Physical Control: A trafficker/pimp may exert physical force on a DMST victim in order to control her. Physically, the trafficker/pimp is often larger in size and stronger, enabling him to inflict pain and injury. Force is utilized to reinforce that the trafficker/pimp is always in charge. Consistent with themes of domestic violence, the beatings are intermittent and often are followed with praise, affection, or gifts. Many of the beatings occur in from of her stable sisters or wife-inlaws as a warning against any behavior that is defiant of the trafficker’s/pimp’s rules. Additionally, violence may be inflicted on one girl for the punishment of another, creating a sense of loyalty to the family or the group as a whole.
Psychological Control: A trafficker/pimp does not need to physically bind a DTM to maintain control; rather, the psychological tactics are equally and often more difficult to recognize and understand. Research has shown that the majority of DMST victims has been victimized through childhood sexual abuse and/or childhood physical abuse, have experienced caretaker abandonment, and/or are chronic runaways. Traffickers/pimps approach adolescents and target their vulnerabilities. Although certain populations are at a higher risk than others, no youth is invulnerable to the tactics of a trafficker/pimp. Youth are often targeted and manipulated systematically and over an extended period of time before the sex trafficking victimization actually occurs. In the beginning, a trafficker/pimp tends to mask his abusive side, displaying a loving side until he has earned the trust of a child at which time the relationship becomes exploitative and violent. Past experiences may condition a youth to believe abuse is “normal” and when the relationship becomes abusive the youth believes she is to blame or is responsible for the abuse.
Research has shown that traffickers/pimps regularly target and recruit youth 12-14 years old. This period in the psychosocial development is critical for adolescents who are developing and establishing their identity, and traffickers/pimps take advantage of this developmental phase. They will often rename their victims to distance them from their identities and establish their new identities as a “prostitute.” Additionally, traffickers/pimps work hard to make prostitution seem like a choice the victims made on their own. The adolescents are quickly led by the trafficker/pimp to believe they have no alternatives to prostitution; it is who they are.
The “turning out” period is rife with intermittent violence and mixed messages which resemble domestic violence and create trauma bonds often seen in Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological response to traumatic situations in which victims become sympathetic to their exploiters. Stockholm Syndrome is a term that derives from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, Sweden. At the end of six days of captivity in a bank, several kidnap victims actually resisted rescue attempts and refused later to testify against their captors. The psychological and behavioral outcome of Stockholm Syndrome also referred to as trauma bonding, is the emotional bonding of a victim with the captor as a defensive mechanism to increase the chance of survival. Small acts of kindness and humanity by the captor are magnified, since finding perspective in a traumatic situation is by definition impossible. It is important to note that these symptoms occur under tremendous physical violence, torture, and psychological duress. The behavior is considered a common survival strategy for victims of interpersonal abuse and has been observed in domestic violence victims, abused children, prisoners of war, and concentration camp survivors.
Some examples of behavior related to Stockholm Syndrome may include:
• A victim defending her abuser by either denying that victimization occurred or minimizing the level of violence.
• A victim defending her abuser to friends, family, or authorities when an attempt is made to have her identify the abuser and recognize the violence.
• A victim taking responsibility for provoking the violent behavior from the abuse.
• A victim taking responsibility by stating that she understands the reasons behind the abuser’s violent behavior.
• A victim acting resistant to leave the abuser or abusive situation.
Although DTMs revere their trafficker/pimp, they also fear him. At any moment they know the trafficker/pimp is able to hurt them if they do not comply with the demands, but they also depend on the trafficker/pimp to provide for them. Traffickers/pimps work to isolate the minor form any person or influence that may counter these messages or increase a victim’s sense of self-worth. DTMs will stay with or return to the trafficker/pimp in hopes for the better future that is often promised, or for the simple reason that they believe that have no other place to go.
Traffickers/pimps place these adolescents in a dilemma, forcing them to choose between two equally bad options: either they “work” for the trafficker/pimp in prostitution or they are severely beaten or killed. As a result, DTM’s often believe prostituting was their choice and blame themselves for not leaving the trafficker/pimp or prostitution.
Another way of maintaining control over the DTM is through the threat of recapture and/or violence against the adolescent’s family. Youth are often recruited in their home community and the trafficker/pimp may know where the victim lived with her family. Anticipating that she will consider running away once the relationship turns abusive, the trafficker/pimp reminds the adolescent that he knows where she lives and will find her again or hurt her family.
A third method of psychological control over a DTM by a trafficker/pimp can be the use of photographs of the adolescent engaged in prostitution acts as blackmail to keep the youth tapped and compliant. The victim is ashamed and fears exposure of the demeaning and exploitative situations to family or friends.
Information taken from Intervene: Specialized Sex Trafficking Training for Juvenile Justice (http://sharedhope.org/whatwe-do/prevent/training/).