- Show signs of social exclusion/marginalization from family, friends, or peer romantic relationships, and express intentions online of running away.
- Have a history of sexual or physical abuse.
- They meet either online or in-person, where they evaluate the self-esteem of the minor through psychologically astute questioning, analyzing the minor´s body language, eye contact, and even tone of voice. A common tactic is to compliment a potential victim. If the youth simply thanks the predator while looking at him/her straight in the eyes, then the the minor shows signs of self-valuation, and thus may not be an “easy target.” If, on the other hand, the minor looks down at the ground and either says nothing or rejects the compliment, the predator might infer a self-esteem problem, and may pursue him/her.
- Escape from home and need basic needs met; the minor risks falling into a trafficking situation via “survival sex” after overstaying his/her welcome at the homes where he/she has been “couch surfing.”
At this point parents/guardians might start to notice the child acting differently:
- New “friends” emerge who are significantly older and outside the common peer social sphere; random new Facebook “friend requests.”
- Minor becomes suddenly uninterested in activities/hobbies he/she liked.
- Minor becomes dejected (more than might be usual), withdrawn, and seeks to be alone and on the phone a lot while talking to just a friend—the trafficker.
2) Isolating the Minor: In this stage, the trafficker has already made inroads into the minor’s confidence. The trafficker will be “investing” in the minor by buying him/her gifts, taking him/her to adult parties, etc. Traffickers look for youths with histories of problems/abuse/neglect. If the trafficker “finds a problem” to latch on to, he/she will psychologically exacerbate that problem, magnify it, and manipulate the child into thinking that he/she is the “solution” to the problem, thereby marginalizing the child from family, friends, and social support structures. Some indicators are:
- Youth carries unexplained cash and expensive gifts: This may have begun in the previous stage, but is usually intensified in this stage.
- The lure of transgression: Increased alcohol use/abuse and use of drugs: The trafficker is pushing the minor into either dependency or a sense that with him/her the minor has more freedom (a false freedom dependent on the trafficker).
- Unusual rise in interest in/preoccupation with pornography.
- The youth seems to “check-in” by phone or device to a “friend” constantly.
- Carries lots of cash: Trafficker may indeed “pay” the minor, sometimes even hundreds of dollars per week (him/herself making SIGNIFICANTLY more).
- Minor´s “other life” may start to encroach upon school and family time, as “dates” are scheduled by the trafficker at increasingly erratic times.
- Unusual hours are kept; minor has problems sleeping/has nightmares.
- Minor may start dressing in an especially hyper-sexualized style.
- Minor may be bruised: A trafficker will always prefer psychological manipulation and isolation to outright violence, but he/she may still resort to beatings/slapping.
- Minor may be “branded” with tattoos: Less common if the trafficker wants to keep the minor leading a “double life,” but tattoos do not have to be names, they can be symbols shared by all the minors in that trafficker/pimp’s circle.
- Minor may always “be able” to physically leave the trafficking situation: The “chains” are usually invisible, and often involve the “love” that the youth may have for the trafficker, threats to the minor’s family, money the trafficker/pimp shares, etc.