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Blogs and Opinion What is sex trafficking and what types of sex trafficking exist?

What is sex trafficking and what types of sex trafficking exist?

What is sex trafficking?

Human trafficking is defined by the UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC) as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit”. Sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking where the exploitation is of a sexual nature.

Globally, an estimated 6.3 million people (78% of them women and girls) are experiencing forced sexual exploitation, including 1.7 million children. Like all forms of human trafficking, sex trafficking is a profitable industry as the commodity, the victim’s body, can be sold repeatedly.

Forms of sex trafficking

Below we outline some of the most common tactics of sexual exploitation, but due to the nuanced and complex nature of human trafficking, this list is not exhaustive.

Boyfriend / Loverboy / Romeo method

A common method of sexual exploitation is known as the “Boyfriend”, “Loverboy” or “Romeo” method. This involves the trafficker winning the trust and affection of the ‘girlfriend’ (the victim) through seduction and romance. This could be through showering them with gifts or expensive experiences, usually ones which will target the ‘girlfriend’s’ vulnerabilities: their appearance, their loneliness, their sense of self-worth, or other things. This is part of a gradual process by which the exploiter establishes control and power over them.

The gifts and expressions of affection later dry up and the dynamic becomes more explicitly exploitative. These initial offerings and the trust established are used to blackmail and coerce the girlfriend into sexual servitude. This can also result in the victim being ‘sold on’ to other perpetrators and exploiters. The initial trust and affection established are used to control and coerce the victim into a cycle of exploitation.

Online Sexual Exploitation, Grooming & Sextortion

According to the US Department of Justice:

“Technological advances, in particular the Internet and mobile devices, have facilitated the sex trafficking of children by providing a convenient worldwide marketing channel. Individuals can now use websites and social media to advertise, schedule, and purchase sexual encounters with minors. The Internet and mobile devices also allow pimps and traffickers to reach a larger clientele base than in the past, which may expose victims to greater risks and dangers”.

Since 2020, Hope for Justice investigators has seen a steep rise in the number of online grooming cases linked to human trafficking and exploitation. Grooming is when a perpetrator befriends a child to gain their trust and then lures or coerces them into sending sexual images or videos of themselves, which are then shared online or used as a form of blackmail, leading to even more exploitative situations such as sex trafficking. This is also known as ‘sextortion’.

In the United States, there are an estimated 500,000 predators online daily, and FBI figures show that 50% of victims of online sexual exploitation are between 12 and 15 years old. In the United Kingdom, more than 34,000 online grooming crimes were reported over the last six years, with 83% of these grooming cases targeting young girls, just like Megan.

Learn more about Online Grooming by taking the Keeping Kids Safe in the Digital World course.

Survival Sex

For runaways and missing teens, ‘survival sex’ is often traded for shelter, food and other necessities. In the U.S., there are approximately 1.5 million homeless youths, and of this, one in three are estimated to have traded sex for a place to stay.

“Survival sex is not a financial transaction. It is a transaction to continue to exist, out of sheer necessity”.

Richard Schoeberl, U.S. Team Leader for Investigations at Hope for Justice

This desperate act, which is performed under coercion in some cases, can result in the prosecution of the victim. It’s vital to protect child victims and recognize they are not offenders. Survivor-focused laws like Maryland’s Safe Harbor Bill and Virginia’s Senate Bill 1292 are crucial steps in the right direction.

Other forms of sexual exploitation

Traffickers use sophisticated methods to recruit and control their victims for sex trafficking, including drug dependency, abduction, withholding of passport or visa documents, sale by family members, forced pregnancy, false job advertisements or educational opportunities, physical threat, financial control and unfortunately, many more.

The relationship between someone experiencing modern slavery and the person or group controlling them is complex. It is rare for the control to be based on physical confinement like locked doors or shackles. Instead, victims are exploited through manipulation, fear, dependency, threats, debt bondage, or a combination of these.

This complex issue takes many forms but regardless of how, where or why it happens, it is not a choice. Victims endure unimaginable horrors, and it must be stopped. You can help us in this fight to end sexual exploitation and modern slavery as a whole by donating to our ‘Give Freedom’ Campaign. Your money will go directly towards efforts supporting the many people trapped in exploitation: people who are left without freedom.

Learn more about other forms of modern slavery here:

young girl