Human traffickers are using online tools to make a connection with potential victims


Traffickers may build an intimate relationship with a victim through social media. — Relationship photo created by freepik - www.freepik.com

Human trafficking is fast becoming one of the growing crimes in the United States and in the world. It is driven by the ability to make a large amount of money with little risk. Traffickers often have practiced their craft numerous times and know which victim to choose with the least amount of risk of getting caught.

Sheriff Kevin Mitchell was interviewed and presented information that he had from the OBN, Human Trafficking Hotline and National Child Safety Council.

"I would encourage every parent to be involved in your children's lives and know who their friends are and what they are doing. If your child trusts you and they know that you have their best interests in mind, they will be more likely to tell you if something is happening such as being groomed for human trafficking," Mitchell said.

The legal definition of human trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerable people (through force, fraud, or coercion) for forced labour, domestic servitude or commercial sex operations. There is not one profile of a trafficking victim — they can be anyone. There is also not one profile of a perpetrator. Traffickers can be family members, partners, acquaintances and even strangers.

Since this often a crime that is hidden in plain sight, it is important to be aware of warning signs. Some indications that a person may be a victim of human trafficking include: (especially in the case of women and children) appearing malnourished, showing signs of physical injuries and abuse, seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction and not being allowed to go into public alone or speak for themselves.

Human traffickers use any tools available to them to make a connection to potential victims, such as social media, video gaming consoles, and chat rooms. While looking for the role they can play in a victim's life, traffickers work to obtain trust from the victim through casual conversations over weeks and sometimes over months. Traffickers also send their current victims to interact with potential victims in order to gain trust. These girls essentially act as scouts for the trafficker.

The traffickers utilise the information they gathered to fill a role in the victim's life. Through gifts, love, friendship, drugs or alcohol. Traffickers force the victims into a dependent relationship. With their new role in the victim's life, they wedge themselves between the victim and those closest to them, their friends and family. Then create secrecy about the relationship.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline has recorded recruitment in all types of sex and labour trafficking on social media platforms including, but not limited to, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, Meetme.com, WhatsApp, Backpage, Craigslist and dating sites/apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Plenty of Fish. Traffickers may build an intimate relationship with a victim through social media.

Blackmail can play a significant role in Internet recruiting. Traffickers will sometimes gain intimate information, photos, videos and then use those a blackmail to force victims do what they want them to do with the threat that if they do not cooperate, they will post or make public these items. They may use the threat that the trafficker will send these photos, videos to the victim's family.

Based on human trafficking cases that have been identified by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, examples of traffickers may include: growers and crew leaders in agriculture, intimate partners/family members, factory owners and corporations and small business owners and managers.

Most trafficking does not begin with a one-time violent abduction situation. Most trafficking begins with a long process, but that does not mean that it can't begin with an abduction as recently happened with a 15-year-old female abducted in Dallas and found in Oklahoma City.

Being aware of your surroundings is very important. Here are some safety tips for driving and parking lots: keep all car doors locked and windows closed while in or out of your car, avoid driving alone or at night. If you have to drive at night always park in well-lighted areas, avoid parking next to vans, trucks with camper shells, or cars with tinted windows and ask for a security escort if you are alone at a shopping centre.

More tips include to be sure to locate your keys prior to going to your car, never leave your car unoccupied with the motor running or with children inside, teach and practice with your children to enter and exit the car quickly, make it your habit to always start your car and drive away immediately.

Parents should always be aware of what your child and teenager are doing online. This can be very hard to do, especially as your child gets older. There are a variety of apps for smartphones to keep you or your loved ones safe. Learn about and download the apps that you think would work best for you.

"Technology is always a risk, the Internet is a dangerous place for a child go wander around alone. You would not turn your child loose in a strange mall in a sketchy part of town to wander around alone, so why would you turn them loose on the Internet without some guidance. Practice safety! Love your children and keep them close," Mitchell said.

Also parents need to educate your children about the dangers of the Internet. Basic guidelines to share with your kids for safe online use: Never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, or school name or location, never agree to get together in person with anyone met online without parent approval and/or supervision and always tell a parent or other trusted adult about any communication or conversation that was scary or hurtful.

Basic guidelines for parental supervision: Spend time online together to teach your kids appropriate online behaviour, monitor any time spent on smartphones or tablets and take your child seriously if he or she reports an uncomfortable online exchange.

If a situation/individual makes you uncomfortable, trust that feeling. Let a trusted friend or relative know if you feel like you are in danger or if a person or situation is suspicious. If possible, set up safety words with a trusted friend/relative. One word can mean that you are safe and a separate word can mean you are not safe. – The Woodward News, Okla./Tribune News Service

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