Myth: People that are trafficked are physically trapped at all times.

Reality: Many people being trafficked continue regular activities like school.

Maybe you’ve seen sex trafficking victims portrayed like the girls in these images: trapped behind bars or tied up with ropes and chains.

However, as we listen to survivors, we have learned that these images don’t accurately tell their stories. Sex trafficking victims usually aren’t locked in a room 24/7, never to see the light of day.

But that doesn’t mean that these women and children are willing participants who can walk away from this life whenever they choose. The bars and chains are still there–but they are usually invisible to the eye.

From the traffickers perspective, a much more effective way to control and keep possession of victims is through physical, psychological, and emotional manipulation. For instance, pimps often use physical abuse such as violence or withholding physical needs like food to get victims to comply. They also use deep psychological manipulation. A trafficker may threaten to go after his victim’s younger sister or post a video of her being raped on social media. His goal is to make her feel so ashamed of her circumstances that she will be too afraid to ask for outside help and too hopeless to imagine another life.

Another way pimps trap their victims is through emotional manipulation. A trafficker may pretend to be in love with the girl and treat her like his girlfriend. He will buy her new clothes, take her on dates, listen to her problems, and show her affection. As a result, she will feel a sense of love and loyalty to her pimp and will even believe that she is choosing this life on her own. In fact, the term “automatic” in the world of trafficking is used to describe a victim’s “automatic” routine when her pimp is out of town, in jail, or not in contact for some reason. The woman or young person will just comply with the pimp’s wishes whether or not he is there because of her feelings of love, fear, and shame toward her trafficker.

So, with these physical, psychological, and emotional tools of manipulation, its relatively easy for pimps to control those he is trafficking regardless of their location. Boys and girls will go to school as they normally would, but will likely be distracted, tired, and disconnected due to their insufficiency of sleep. Detective Woolf of Fairfax, VA, said that during his time working against human trafficking, they have identified a girl from every high school and at least a few middle schools in the Northern Virginia area that have been trafficked. Woolf says that these girls would go to school, be exploited after school until about 8 or 9 at night, and then come home without their parents knowledge of what was going on.

The Texas School Safety Center has created the chart below for teachers so that they can recognize signs of sex trafficking among students. If we realize that women, boys, and girls who are being trafficked can still be a part of our everyday community, we can pick up on these signs and get help for victims by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888).


Shared Hope International , Texas School Safety Center, Dective Woolf