What is Human Trafficking: Part 2 – The Cycle

How does someone become a victim of a trafficker? There is a general cycle that takes place with this crime and while it won’t be identical in each situation having a general understanding may help you recognize red flags and respond to situations that you wouldn’t have normally questioned.

Assessment and Recruitment

A predator looks for vulnerability within a victim. This can occur in person, most often at locations youth hang out (i.e. school, malls, parks). For some it may be low self-esteem, a predator can easily spot these traits by simply watching how a young girl reacts when he calls her beautiful. If she lowers her head, she is potentially a good target.

  • The number one place predators find their victims is on social media sites.

The amount of information we freely offer to the world about ourselves makes it easier for traffickers to find their next victim without ever leaving the couch. Predators troll social sites to try and spot vulnerabilities, they are good at it, our goal is to be better in order to prevent potential victims. A statement such as “My parents are the worst” or “I’m so over school.” Allows the predator to connect, relate and offer a solution to the victim.

  • One in seven runaways will likely become a victim of child sex trafficking source

Survival sex is another form of child exploitation. This is the act of trading your body for a sexual act for a basic human need (i.e. food, clothing, shelter).


There is no single form of force, fraud or coercion used by predators. Each trafficker has their own style to gain the necessary power and control required to manipulate an individual into doing what they want.

  • 85% of victims reported developing a close relationship with their trafficker source

This portrays the Romeo Pimp tactic of manipulating and nurturing a relationship with their victim. They manipulate their victim into believing they are truly in a romantic relationship, this is done by buying the victim gifts, taking them out to eat and spoiling them in some form. This tactic creates a bond between victim and trafficker and often the victim believes they are selling themselves because it is how they contribute to the relationship.

The second type of trafficker is a Gorilla Pimp, this is the use of violence to gain control and power over their victims. A victim will do what they are told based on the fear of what will happen if they do not comply.

The last form of trafficking is familial trafficking. This is when a parent or family member pimps out their child for money, often to pay the rent or to feed their drug habit.


The breaking phase occurs when a trafficker introduces the victim into “the life”. For some this can be very violent, including gang rapes. For others it may be giving an illicit massage to one of the predator’s friends. Shame is often used to maintain power and control. Statements like: “You are just a whore now” “No one will believe you” “Your family won’t love you anymore” “You are the one committing a crime” may be used.

If recovery of a victim is not made prior to this breaking phase it becomes much more difficult

Automatic and Maintenance

Once a victim has reached this phase they are basically running on autopilot. Continuing to comply in order to avoid whatever their trafficker has threatened them with. This could include fear of violence, fear of their family being harmed or feeling that they no longer have worth.

  • 75% of victims reported being advertised online while in “the life” after 2004 source

The use of technology has allowed traffickers to engage with buyers at a more frequent and widespread capacity. A predator can easily advertise online through various escort sites.

  • One in four victims surveyed reported that when advertised on line they saw more than 10 buyers per day source

Imagine the trauma associated with 1 unwanted sexual encounter and multiply that by 10 each day.

  • A recent study found that human trafficking survivors have an alarming higher-than-average rate of suicidal thoughts with 23% of survivors having attempted suicide compared with 3% of the population with no prior domestic violence exposure source

It will take on average seven attempts for a victim to leave ‘the life” compared to four attempts with domestic violence.

We strive to break this cycle in the beginning stages so no victim ever has to experience the enormous trauma associated with trafficking. Predators behind bars prevents future victims. Become a Guardian and help us protect America’s children.

Guardian Group’s mission is to prevent and disrupt the sex trafficking of women and children while enabling partners to identify victims and predators in the United States.