For a crime that is so horrific and ruthless, the sex trafficking “industry” is run by an extremely well organized, trans-national crime syndicate with a specific hierarchical system. Each individual within the syndicate has a specific role to play and they are extremely calculating at what they do.
The strategy is well worked out and nothing happens overnight. Predators have been known to groom their targets for weeks, months, and even years, and then vanish without a trace after abducting the victim.
Stage 1: Befriending
The first level of grooming usually involves someone that the victim is at least reasonably familiar with — a family friend, someone in class, or at least in the same school. It could also be a “secret fan” who keeps appreciating the victim’s social media profile through likes or comments. This “befriender” has been trained on how to gain the trust of the victim. Teenagers seek acceptance and attention. They are looking for an opportunity to fit in or prove themselves in some way. So it could be through a casual encounter at the grocery store, flashing a couple of friendly smiles in class, or just coincidentally being at the same party of a mutual friend. The trust-gleaning process is slow but sure. It’s not obvious externally, but inside, the wheels are turning as the process continues to wrest away the victim’s mental control.
Stage 2: Dependence
In the second stage, the befriender generally steps up the game to pull the victim into a trap through drugs, alcohol, or anything that the victim would like to try out. This is especially the case if the victim is from a very strictly controlled environment. The technique is two-pronged — the victim’s mental constitution is broken down and she becomes dependent on the groomer for access to these substances. This could happen at parties in the neighborhood or at any venue with no responsible adult supervision.
Stage 3: Transfer of control
This is the stage where the predator isolates the victim from her parents. He provokes the victim to stand up against her parents’ control and “fight for her freedom.” This process may take the form of throwing tantrums, rebellion, or antagonizing her parents and family. There is a noticeable shift in behavior and personality. Parents tend to write it off as “growing pains” or just something “every teenager would go through.” Again, it’s about taking control.
Stage 4: Isolation from peer group
In the fourth stage, the victim is estranged and separated from her own peer group. The victim’s priorities have changed and her behavior becomes irritating to the extent that her friends and peers cannot tolerate or relate to her the way that they used to. She is no longer the same person.
Stage 5: Desensitization
At this point, the victim’s moral compass is set spinning off course. Any values instilled by her core family have been wiped clean and she is completely within the control of the predator. This is the point of no return.
As parents of teenagers, you need to be aware of the challenges and insecurities that your children are facing every day through social media and within their peer groups. It’s important to have an open channel of conversation at all times and be sensitive to behavioral changes that cannot be explained. Above all, it’s imperative to be the person your child trusts above everyone else.
Visit ChildProof America for more details on how to look for identifiers if someone is influencing your children, and what to do when you find them.