Five disguises used by human traffickers

They try to take the lives of the vulnerable. They seek to control, to buy and to sell human beings. They are human traffickers, and they are some of the most manipulative people in the world. We’ve spoken to experts to identify five disguises used most by traffickers.

1. The Pretender: Human traffickers often pretend to be someone they’re not, and online social networking helps them get away with it more often than not.

“They can pretend to be a sympathetic boyfriend, a big sister or a future father-figure,” said Donna Paulk, Women’s Ministry Strategist with SBCV. “At 13 years old, a girl became infatuated with an 18-year-old man. She would have done anything for him. He met her need for love that she never received from her family.”

2. The Provider: Human traffickers often offer protection and promise to take care of an individual’s needs like clothes, food or a place to live. They give lavish gifts and pay for cell phones, purses, parties and expensive things. Then they turn on their victims.

“Eventually, the 13-year-old little girl was asked to sell her body to support the man she’d fallen in love with,” Paulk said. “She had to do things that would traumatize her to this day. The gifts were overshadowed by violence and brutality. After four years, she managed to escape.”

3. The Promiser: Human traffickers often promise access to glamourous lifestyles. They entice vulnerable people with visions of travel, amazing job opportunities, celebrity-status and more. But they’re just promising empty words.

“I saw an ad in a newspaper for work in the hospitality industry,” Samantha* said. “There was a lengthy recruitment process with lots of interviews. Among other things, they asked me to walk up and down and smile. ‘Customer service is key!’ they said. I passed and was offered the job. But when I got to the address, I was forced to have sex. The following day, my boss came and apologized. He told me there had been a mistake. ‘OK,’ I thought. ‘The nightmare is over. I’ll finally get to start my job.’ But he was lying.”

4. The Protector: Human traffickers often use their physical powers of intimidation to control an individual. They also show displays of power by bullying or picking on their victims in front of other victims.

“My first day being trafficked, I remember a door swinging open and a little girl, probably 12 or 13 years old, lying on the ground screaming as men took turns kicking her and hitting her with a baseball bat,” said Samantha. “Blood was pouring from her nose. Then the men turned to look at me, and they were grinning, smacking the bat like a warning. I was trying hard to survive. The guns, the knives and the baseball bat were fixtures in an unstable world.”

5. The Punisher: Human traffickers often use threats and elaborate rings of people to maintain control. They punish their victims through force. They pit victims against one another and make sure no victim trusts the other.

“One day, I was talking to another woman in the brothel who was in charge of us,” Samantha said. “She gave me a number to call if I ever escaped. So my friend and I snuck into a bathroom and turned all the taps on. We unscrewed the screws in the window and jumped out it. We ran to a pay phone and called the number. Turns out, he was another trafficker, working with my trafficker and the woman. He trafficked us before trying to give us back to my original trafficker. I was able to escape during that exchange.”

Awareness is key! Knowing what disguises to watch out for should help our communities stay aware of unsafe relationships and behaviors. Let’s cultivate authentic and safe relationships that support successful futures for our communities.

Send Relief is here to help you and your church fight for freedom in your communities. Learn how to spot the signs of human trafficking. Or, read how Human Trafficking and the ‘Big Game’ are connected.

See something, say something! Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) or text info of Help to BeFree 233733.

*Name changed to protect the trafficking victim.

Josie Rabbitt Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board.

Published January 25, 2019