Teen Trafficking

By Deb Murphy, Youth Services Specialist

Human trafficking has been in the news a lot lately and the subject of some really action-packed thrillers, like the movie, “Taken.” A lot of people think of human trafficking as just moving people from one place to another, like human smuggling. That’s not necessarily the case. You may be trafficked in your own hometown. Most people don’t think it can happen to them, but it can. And it can happen to teenagers, too! As a matter of fact, it happens right here in the LGBT community, and probably more than you may think.

Thinking TeenThere are two types of trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

Sex trafficking is when you’re forced in some way to provide sexual services for money. It’s important for you to know that if you’re doing that, for money, gifts, or a place to stay, and you are under the age of 18, you are the victim. Even after you turn 18, if a boyfriend, girlfriend, family member, or pimp, forces you to exchange sex, you are also a victim of trafficking.

Labor trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to get you to work for little or no pay. Maybe you have to sell magazines or pirated DVDs door-to-door or end up back on the street.

Anyone can be the victim of trafficking. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, where you live, what you look like, or how much money your family has. Traffickers prey on the vulnerable, and they think that if you are lonely or have a secret like your sexual orientation or gender identity, they may be able to control you. They know that if they pretend to love you or be your prince, your emotions will kick in before your brain can alert you to the dangers ahead.

What we are finding out is that LGBT teens are more vulnerable to being the victim of sex trafficking than labor trafficking, although there can be a combination of both going on. Here are some ways that teens can get trapped:

  • You ran away from home or were kicked out. Someone approaches you in person or through a social app offering to help you out, saying what happened to you isn’t fair. They give you what you need – a place to stay, clothes, food, etc. You fall in love with that person, but things start to change. They may turn mean or even hit you. They may force you to have sex with them or their friends. They may tell you that you owe them money for everything they gave you, and you have to work it off by hustling, with their friends, on the street or answering ads like on Craigslist. It can also be as subtle as the trafficker asking the victim to “help out” since they have been given so much. You don’t want to but you feel obligated, after all – it’s your lover – so you do it anyway. Sometimes they are nice to you, and sometimes they are really mean to you. Either way, they take your money and control your every move. You may even have some feelings for them but you don’t like what is happening.
  • You have a friend who has all the latest gadgets and fashion. You wish you could afford them, too. They know all the people in the clubs. They tell you that they make money on the side by performing sex for money. They say it is no big deal; that the guys are hot, and maybe you can get an iPad out of it. At first you don’t think it is a big deal either, so you do it. Eventually it gets old but you don’t know how to get out. You can’t tell your parents or friends because you are ashamed. You think they’ll think less of you or that you should have known better.

Teens get trafficked in so many different ways. A quick test is that if you are being forced (someone is physically forcing you) or you are being coerced (you are told you owe a debt), you are being trafficked.

Let’s say you have a new friend and think maybe he or she is a trafficking victim. You wonder why your friend would stay. There are lots of reasons (doesn’t mean they’re good reasons):

  • Your friend may have fallen in love with the trafficker
  • Your friend would rather do this than be back on the street
  • The trafficker might have threatened your friend’s friends or family
  • The trafficker might have intimidated your friend so much that they can’t see any way out
  • The “system” has rejected your friend when they asked for help
  • Your friend may be too embarrassed to admit they didn’t realize what was happening before it escalated

Now you’re wondering “How do I bring this up?” Here are some things to remember:

  • Listen
  • Make sure they know this is not OK and certainly not love
  • Find out who they could go to for help and share that information.
  • Be a friend – don’t judge
  • Be patient. It may take some time for them to get the courage to act.

Can someone break out of this life? Yes, there is help. You don’t have to stay. What they are doing to you is not only wrong, it’s illegal. Even if you’re selling yourself for sex, it is not your fault! To get out, you can tell a trusted adult or police officer or you can call 1.888.3737.888.


The Montrose Center