EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series about human trafficking in which the answers to the following questions will be explored: What is it? Where is it? Who are the victims? What's being done to combat this growing crime? Is there help for victims? What can you do to help prevent it? See Part 3 in Tuesday's edition.
They're called human traffickers. Their profession? Selling both adults and children for sex?
How do they snare their child victims?
How do they keep them trapped in a nightmare existence?
Craig Williams, an Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics senior agent who serves in the bureau's Human Trafficking Unit, says traffickers view their victims as commodities, merchandise or a product for personal monetary gain.
"They typically recruit juveniles by finding an emotional need the child has and filling that need," Williams explains. "The initial contact can be from social media, in person — at a mall, a grocery store, etc. — or through a mutual acquaintance."
Children with low self-esteem are especially easy prey. If the target is a girl, the trafficker may simply "boyfriend" her.
Williams defines the term, saying, "By that, I mean that the girl will initially believe she is in a relationship with the trafficker."
The trafficker sets out to create strong dependence through emotional and psychological factors. The ultimate goal is to control as many areas of the victim's life as possible so that the victim believes their life depends solely on the trafficker.
In fact, victims are so dependent, Williams says they are usually extremely loyal to their trafficker.
"Oftentimes, they (victims) do not self-identify as victims and do not actively seek escape from their trafficker. The power of the psychological bonds is very strong," he concedes.
Once the trafficker has gained enough control, the victim is "turned out." Methods include gang rape. Forced drug use is another avenue, but is used in unique ways.
"Different traffickers treat their victims differently," Williams points out. "Remember, that to a trafficker, the victim is a commodity. The trafficker uses the victim for their own personal gain. A highly drug-addicted victim would not be as 'productive.' So, some traffickers try to make sure that their victims are not drug dependent. Others have the victims use stimulants so they can stay awake and work more. Each situation is individual. And some victims turn to drug abuse to temporarily 'escape' their situation."
Pregnancy is yet another way traffickers turn out girls.
Williams calls it "... a unique dynamic ... each trafficker will approach the pregnancy differently. One way traffickers will try to establish control over them is to impregnate the victim. At that point, the victim can never fully separate from the trafficker.
"Some traffickers then use the child as coercion. An example is that the trafficker won't let the victim see the child unless they meet a quota. Pimp/traffickers also share techniques and methods with one another on how to turn out and control the victims in their 'stable'."
In Wednesday's conclusion, learn what OBN is doing to combat HT. What local law enforcement is doing. What citizens should not do if they suspect a child is an HT victim, and the proactive steps they can take to prevent HT.