Myth: Sex trafficking only happens to women and girls.

Reality: Sex trafficking happens frequently to boys too.

In a previous blog post, we discussed the statistic that 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18. We also know that those who have been previously sexually abused are more vulnerable to trafficking. So, you might be asking yourself:

Does that mean boys are vulnerable to trafficking too?


But because trafficking has been portrayed as a “women’s issue” for so long, we haven’t been trained to look for male victims and survivors. Boys may also feel shame because of the stigma that only women and girls are trafficked. This shame likely prevents them from seeking help or coming forward as a victim. Thus, statistics on how many boys are trafficked are practically nonexistent.

Last fall, our Program Coordinator and Communication Coordinator attended Shared Hope’s JuST Conference to be better equipped to respond to juvenile sex trafficking. At the conference they heard survivor stories from men who were trafficked in their childhood and teenage years. These boys could have gotten help, but went unrecognized by those who interacted with them.

Although we don’t know how many boys are trafficked, we do know how boys commonly respond to sexual abuse, which can can help us identify possible victims of trafficking. While girls tend to respond to sexual abuse internally by dissociating, boys tend to respond to sexual abuse externally by fighting or fleeing. Boys may act out with aggression, anger, and physical or verbal bullying.

If you notice a sudden change in a boy’s behavior such as this, it does not necessarily mean that he is being trafficked or sexually abused, but you can use this resource from RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) to help you identify warning signs, talk to the child, and go through the process of reporting abuse.

You can be a part of protecting young boys and helping those who have experienced exploitation by looking out for these warning signs and by joining us in spreading the word that sex trafficking is not just a “women’s issue”.

Sources: Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Shared Hope International, Human Trafficking Center

Myth: Being a victim of sex trafficking will force a child to “grow up” quickly.

Reality: A child is arrested in the stage of development in which the trauma occurred.

Child victims of trafficking have been exposed to horrors in life that most adults have never experienced, from drugs and poverty to violence and rape. However, this doesn’t mean that we should treat these young survivors as if they are adults. The trauma that these children have endured doesn’t make them mature more quickly. Instead, when trauma occurs in a child’s life, the child can stay emotionally frozen at the age in which he or she was abused.

Children are not as resilient as we might think that they are. In reality, they are extremely sensitive to trauma because it is internalized. Often the most difficult time for a sex trafficking victim is when they leave “the life”. This is because they are suddenly confronted with emotions they have repressed for months or even years.

On a neurological level, the brain can actually alter itself to cope with trauma. In the case of sexual assault, there are changes in the somatosensory cortex, which processes input to the body to create sensations and perceptions. A person that is abused actually has thinner areas of the brain that process the input from the genitals.

If someone that you know tells you that they have been sexual abused, RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) has great tips on their website for how to respond. There can be a lot of shame associated with sexual assault, so it is important to acknowledge how brave the person is for sharing their story, to tell them that you believe them, that you are sorry that it happened, and that they are not alone. It is also helpful to offer continual support by avoiding judgement, checking in periodically, and knowing your resources. With these tips, we can all do our part to help loved ones who have been abused process through their experiences.

Sources: The White UmbrellaRAINN

Myth: Sex trafficking only takes place in illegal or underground places.

Reality: Sex trafficking happens in legal businesses, like hotels, massage parlors, and the internet.

It’s natural to assume that sex trafficking, an illegal activity, is happening in underground, illegal businesses. While this is sometimes true, sex trafficking can also occur in many places, including legal businesses. In fact, women and children may be forced and coerced to sell their bodies to willing buyers in places you regularly go. Some of the most prevalent venues for sex trafficking are hotels and motels, massage parlors, and the internet.

In 2016 alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 5,593 cases of sex trafficking nationwide. 588 of these reported cases were from hotels and motels, making them the number one venue for sex trafficking. Pimps use hotels and motels to set up “dates” between the girls and the buyers. Most times, victims who are sold in hotels and motels have plenty of interactions with people in the community, like taxi drivers, front desk staff, housekeepers, and security personnel. But because most people do not know the signs of human trafficking, these women and children remain unidentified without hope of getting help.

Following close behind hotels and motels, 561 of the reported cases in 2016 came from illicit massage and spa businesses. These “massage parlors” often operate out of strip malls, office buildings, medical complexes, or residential homes. The pimps will attempt to disguise their trafficking ring as a legitimate business by paying rent and taxes, advertising in places like the yellow pages, offering legal services like massages, and even acquiring relevant licences and permits. Because traffickers go to such great lengths to disguise businesses, these massage parlors continue to bring in a tremendous profit through the exploitation of innocent women.

The third most common place where trafficking takes place, as reported by the hotline, is the internet. Traffickers use the internet to post hundreds of thousands of new ads every day for the “services” their victims offer. THORN, an organization committed to fighting sex trafficking online, reports that 63% of child sex trafficking victims were advertised online. This is because the internet has made buying children for sex as easy as ordering a pizza. THORN calls the internet the “largest marketplace for buying and selling children in this country.”

So what can YOU do? Here are three, simple ways you can help identity perpetrators and victims and bring an end to sex trafficking in our community and country:

  1. Follow this link to learn the signs of sex trafficking in hotels, and spread the word to anyone you know who works in the hospitality industry.
  2. Click this link to learn the signs that a spa or massage business is engaging in commercial sex and what you can do to shut down massage parlor trafficking.

Help legislation pass the Senate to hold websites like accountable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking. Find out who your US Senators are by clicking here. Then, call their offices or write them a letter asking them to support FOSTA (Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017) in the Senate.


National Human Trafficking Hotline, THORN, Polaris Project

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


Myth: There is nothing I can personally do to stop sex trafficking.

Reality: There are many options for everyone to help in some way!

The magnitude and pervasiveness of sex trafficking can feel overwhelming. What can one person possibly do to bring an end to this dark industry and help those who have been exploited?

We’re glad you asked.

Even if your job does not specifically combat sex trafficking, there are many ways you can join the fight and make an impact!

1. Recognize the signs of sex trafficking so that you can report any suspicious behavior.

Some signs that an individual is being trafficked include unexplained absences from class, signs of physical abuse (such as burn marks, bruises, or cuts), unexplained new expensive clothing or tattoos, an older boyfriend, or a person that is withdrawn and often distracted. To report a tip or get help, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888). Remember, if you see something, say something!

2. Stay informed about the specific laws and news surrounding sex trafficking.

To join efforts to strengthen your state’s laws, check out Shared Hope’s Stop the InJustice Campaign. Contact your representatives to pass laws that will protect victims and prosecute perpetrators. You can also check out Street Ransom’s In the News page on our website to keep up-to-date with local cases and the progress on laws regarding sex trafficking.

3. Don’t contribute to the sexual exploitation of children and women.

The connection between pornography and sex trafficking is undeniable. Pornography contributes to the commodification and degradation of women and increases the demand for sex trafficking. By viewing porn, consumers subconsciously begin to view women as tools for sexual pleasure. The addictive nature of pornography eventually leads consumers to want to act out their sexual fantasies. This can lead men to purchase sex from someone they think is a consenting adult, but who may actually be a victim of trafficking.

There’s also no way of telling whether a porn performer is in this industry by choice or if she/he is a victim of force, fraud, or coercion. Many survivors of sex trafficking said that porngraphy was made of them while they were being trafficked to “advertise” their services. To learn more, check out Fight the New Drug. To find help to break free from pornography addiction, visit Proven Men’s website.

4. Support Street Ransom’s efforts to serve survivors and spread awareness.

Help us reach our fundraising goal so that we can open our shelter to serve juvenile survivors of sex trafficking in 2018! For $200, you can Support a Survivor, which covers the cost of housing and services for one girl for one day in our crisis shelter. You can also request a speaker from Street Ransom to bring further awareness about sex trafficking to your workplace, church, friend group, etc. Want to join the efforts of others organizations in the area who are combating sex trafficking? Check out and support our friends in the fight.

There are many more ways to help, but these are all great places to begin! Use these resources and start conversations with your friends and family to increase knowledge of sex trafficking. You can play a part in bringing an end to this dark industry.

Myth: Sex trafficking is not happening often or close to me.

Reality: Sex trafficking is rampant all over the world and our country.

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘sex trafficking’? Maybe you imagine a poor family in India selling their youngest daughter into the sex industry in order to feed their other children and keep a roof over their heads. Maybe you picture a scene from Taken where naive teenage girls are abducted in a foreign country and forced into exploitation. These images reinforce the idea that sex trafficking is only happening internationally in cases of extreme poverty or abduction.

In reality, sex trafficking is both a global and local problem. Across the world there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking, but this does not mean that this problem is far from home. There have been reports of sex trafficking in all 50 states this past year, and the staggering volume of child pornography in the United States has increased the demand for child sex trafficking. From 2013 to 2017, the number of cases in the US involving minors has doubled. Sex trafficking is growing more rapidly than the drug trade because selling women and children is more profitable and lower risk than dealing drugs.

But these statistics don’t just apply to states with big cities that have high crime rates. Locally in Virginia, there has been a 168% increase in the child trafficking cases in the last four years. In 2016, Virginia had 106 sex trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and was ranked 15th in highest cases of trafficking in the US. Fairfax County Detective William Woolf, has identified sex trafficking cases at every high school and many middle schools in Northern Virginia. Even here in our community, there have been cases reported in Roanoke City, Salem, Vinton, and Giles County.

Help us spread the news that sex trafficking is not just a problem in foreign countries–it’s happening here and now! Check out these red flags so that you can start recognizing victims and traffickers in your community.


White Umbrella , Human Trafficking Hotline, End Slavery Now, Thorn

Myth: Victims of sex trafficking usually come from a specific background, socioeconomic status, or race.

Reality: There are some factors that make children more vulnerable, but victims can be of any demographic.

Briana was an 18-year-old cheerleader and honor roll student with hopes of going to school to become a nurse. While she was waitressing, she met a 24-year-old man who befriended her and soon became her boyfriend. Within a few months, Briana’s boyfriend had convinced her to start stripping to help pay the bills. Eventually, Briana made plans to move across the country to be with him and make a life for herself. Thankfully, Briana’s family and friends intervened when the police informed them that she was likely being groomed for sex trafficking.

What put Briana at risk of being trafficked? Here are some factors that make youth more vulnerable:

  • Previous sexual abuse: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused before the age of 18, and 85% of those in the sex trade were abused as children.
  • African American and Latino: 52% of all juvenile prostitution arrests are African-American children.
  • Child Welfare involvement or homelessness: Studies report that 50-90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system and that about 25% of homeless children have experienced sex trafficking or survival sex.
  • Refugee and Migrant Children: 76% of refugees surveyed in the Mediterranean indicate they have been trafficked or exploited, but domestic data is limited.
  • LGBTQ: A study in New York City estimated that more than 1 in 4 homeless LGBTQ children are victims of sex trafficking

However, of all of these demographics, age remains the primary vulnerability. The common age that children enter into sex trafficking is 14-16 years old. Why? Because this is when most girls begin to transition into womanhood: they often look older than they really are, they start to become independent of their parents/guardians, they seek attention and affection, and they are trying to figure out who they are. So, many young people, like Briana, might come from a loving family and live in a nice neighborhood, but their age and naivety make them easy targets for traffickers.

Unfortunately, today’s technology is making it easier for pimps to recruit online and find vulnerable youth who are seeking love, adventure, worth, protection, and opportunity. Traffickers use social media sites as well as schools, malls, parks, bus stops, shelters, group homes, and anywhere young people normally hang out to find the next girl they will “pimp out”.

So what can you do to prevent your children from being trafficked? We are not advising you to lock up your kids or take away all of their phones and privileges. Living in fear of the “what ifs” is never helpful or healthy for you or your children. What we do want to do is educate parents on what makes youth vulnerable and teach them how to recognize the warning signs of trafficking (such as an older boyfriend, unexplained new clothing or jewelry, and increased secretive behavior and isolation). We also want to enable parents to have age-appropriate discussions about sex trafficking and establish trust and openness with their children.

Check out this guide for parents to learn other tips and tools. If you think someone is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733 (BeFree).


Wellspring LivingThornShared Hope InternationalRights 4 Girls

Myth: Prostitutes have chosen this life and deserve to go to jail.

Reality: Many “prostitutes” are victims of sex trafficking who need our help.

Imagine you were stripped of your job experience, your degrees, your connections. You’re fifteen years old, and you just ran away from home because your father has been trading sex with you for rent and favors since you were 12.

A couple of weeks ago you found out you were pregnant and, wanting to protect the baby, you decided enough was enough and ran. But now you have nowhere to go, no job experience, no one to help. You go to the library to get access to wifi and look for resources. While you’re there, a man approaches you. He starts telling you that his girl just broke up with him, and he talks about how nice he treated her and describes the void in his life without her now. He offers to take you out to eat and buy you some new slides. You are reluctant at first, but you decide to go out with him and have a good time. For a minute you forget the fact that you’re pregnant and alone without shelter or food.

At the end of the night, he offers for you to come stay with him until you find a place. You go home with him. For a while things are good; he buys you nice clothes and sets you up with an iPhone. You start to trust in him and confide in him about your pregnancy. He says it’s not your fault and that he will take care of you. You let your guard down and start dreaming of a life with him and your new baby.

Until one day, he comes home frustrated that he doesn’t have the money for rent. “I keep providing for you, but you don’t give me anything in return,” he yells as he throws the bottle in his hand across the room. You’re so scared, but you just stay quiet and hope it will pass soon. Finally, he calms down and starts to walk towards the door. As he is leaving he tells you that if you don’t find a job soon, you’re going to have to work for the rent like your dad taught you. You are hurt and terrified. You’ve been searching for a job for months, but no one want to hire a pregnant girl. Even McDonald’s said no.

The next month the same thing happens, but this time you hear a knock at the door. It’s the landlord here to collect rent. With no money in hand, you offer to have sex with him as payment, and he accepts. Your boyfriend comes in afterwards and says, “Good job, see that’s all you have to do. I’d have to actually work a job 9-5 for a week if I wanted to make that kind of money. This is what you’re good at–even your dad knew it.” You’re devastated, you’re angry and blame yourself because you believed him. You want to leave, but you’re torn because you still love your boyfriend and maybe he is right? I mean even your own father did the same thing. Maybe that really is all you’re worth.

This story is one of coercion, which is a common way women and children become victims of sex trafficking. Through a manipulative grooming process, a girl falls in love with her pimp and feels in debt to him. So, when he begins to ask her for favors such as stripping, having sex with one of his friends, or selling herself to a stranger, the girl will often comply out of obligation to help him financially.

Girls don’t wake up one day and decide to be prostitutes. Many have been forced, coerced, or tricked into the sex industry as children or adults. Some women have been forced through physical abuse by family members or violent and controlling men to perform acts they would never consent to. They are forced to sell themselves simply to survive because they have found no other way to make ends meet.

Others are neither forced or manipulated, but tricked into the industry. In these situations, pimps will appeal to a girl’s desires or needs. For instance, a trafficker might offer a fake modeling position to a teenage girl or promise a waitressing job to an immigrant in need. But once the girl commits, she discovers that the modeling position or waitressing job is really a trafficking ring. At this point, it’s too late for her to backout or escape.

But because selling sex for profit in most states is illegal and it’s difficult to prove “force, fraud, or coercion”, these women and children are the ones who are put behind bars. This is why the label of “prostitute” is so detrimental. It’s not only incorrect in most cases, but it perpetuates victims’ abuse and withholds them from getting help and finding healing.

One recent experiment that seeks to end victim-blaming and offers a different approach to ending prostitution is the Swedish Model. In 1999, a new law was introduced in Sweden that criminalized the buyer of sex rather than the seller. As a result, many survivors of sex trafficking were identified and offered help. In 2015, a government agency in Sweden reported that street prostitution had been cut in half since 1995, and the amount of men who said that they purchased sex was down 40 percent.

Join us in speaking out against victim-blaming and advocating for similar policies that will protect victims and prosecute traffickers, buyers, and facilitators of sex trafficking. Click here to learn how you can support current campaign efforts in our state, country, and online!


Shared Hope InternationalThe Baltimore Sun

Myth: Sex trafficking requires travel, transportation, or movement across borders.

Reality: Sex trafficking does not require transportation and can even happen within homes.

The very word “trafficking” makes us think of transportation. However, this association can prevent us from identifying and helping victims. When we associate trafficking with transportation, we are usually thinking of human smuggling. Human smuggling is defined as the transportation of an individual from one destination to another (i.e. across a border), usually with his or her consent. On the other hand, human trafficking is modern day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. So, while human trafficking can involve transportation or movement, it is not a required element.

In fact, the most common recruiting methods that pimps use don’t require transportation at all. For example, at least 31% of victims are groomed through the “boyfriend method.” This tactic is simple, yet incredibly effective. The pimp plays a romantic role to earn a girl’s trust and affection. Once he does this, the pimp can easily manipulate her into sexual exploitation, often disguising it as doing “favors” for him. Many victims recruited by this method aren’t aware that they are being trafficked and resume a normal lifestyle. Some girls may even continue to live at home or go to school while they are being groomed or exploited.

Still others are trafficked without even leaving their homes. The place where children should feel the most protected and loved is the place where they are abused over and over again. These girls and boys, who are recruited and sold by their own family members, account for about 10% of all trafficking victims. If we continue to think of sex trafficking as the transportation of individuals, we will miss opportunities to identify and help children who are being bought and sold within their own homes, school, and communities.

As you go about your day, lookout for these warning signs in women and children you interact with:

  • Signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts  
  • Unexplained absences from school, truancy  
  • Less appropriately dressed than before  
  • Sexualized behavior  
  • Overly tired or falls asleep in class
  • Withdrawn, depressed, or distracted  
  • Brags about making or having lots of money  
  • Unexplained expensive clothes, accessories, or shoes  
  • New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims.)  
  • Older boyfriend, new friends with a different lifestyle, or gang involvement  
  • Disjointed family connections, running away, living with friends, or experiencing homelessness

If you notice one or more of these signs in someone you know, say something. Even if you are unsure of a situation, don’t hesitate to report a tip to the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888

Myth: Porn is harmless and doesn’t affect the sex trafficking industry.

Reality: Porn perpetuates the sex trafficking industry and is extremely harmful to both the consumer and the performer.  

Porn is a subject that is often swept under the rug. We like to pretend that it’s not an issue, especially in the church. But the reality is that porn is a pervasive problem, and it needs to be addressed. Check out this video that explains some of its damaging effects:

In all respects, porn is a gateway to and a cause of sex trafficking because it creates demand. Porn is not only used to advertise for sex trafficking, but many of the women and children in the photos and videos are trafficked themselves. In fact, 1 in 5 pornagraphic images online are of children, which by definition is sex trafficking.

The United States is a leading consumer of sex and remains the largest producer and consumer of child abuse content in the world. As stated in the video above, 85% of young men and nearly half of young women watch porn on a regular basis. This has enormous consequences for those who watch porn and for those exploited by the porn and sex trafficking industries.

One major impact is how porn alters the way people view and treat women and children. For example, a viewer of porn is 31% more likely to blame a rape on a victim. Porn consumers also have a 22% increase risk of committing sexual offenses, including offenses that involve sex trafficking. The reason for this is because watching porn makes it easier for people to rationalize commercial sexual exploitation and desensitizes viewers to sexual abuse, even child rape.

Contrary to what some may think, porn’s effects are not exclusive to male viewers. Women who are exposed to porn at an early age are more likely to have rape fantasies and to support sexual violence against women. Porn is also used by pimps and buyers to show the victims of sex trafficking how they need to perform for their clients or show children that sex between an adult and a child is normal and even enjoyable.

It is imperative for us to take back the sacredness of sex and take a stand to value and protect the innocence of our children. There are many ways to get involved with the recovery of our community from the grips of pornography. If you are a man who is seeking to stop consuming porn or someone who wants to help other men work through this addiction, check out Proven Men. Proven Men offers encouragement and help to men struggling with sexual addiction through support groups, studies, and more. There are also many similar programs for women who struggle with porn and sexual addiction. Check out these helpful resources from Covenant Eyes.

How do you think our communities would be different if we recognized pornography for what it truly is and refused to click? Help us stop the demand for sex trafficking at the source! Join us and Fight the New Drug by reposting this blog on social media and using the hashtag #NoPornNovember.

Sources: Porn and Sex Trafficking: 10 Facts from the Experts,

Child Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in the United States (Thorn, 2014)