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The Rise in Online Human Trafficking

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, we highlighted a spike in online human trafficking—particularly targeting children. Unfortunately, such tactics had already been increasing as traffickers recognized a new opportunity to exploit unaware populations.

Exodus Road defines cybersex trafficking as, “the exploitation of a person through the internet via webcam, photos, videos, or other digital media.” Victims, through force, fraud, or coercion, are compelled to provide sexual services despite likely never encountering most of their buyers.

Several factors fuel this type of trafficking.

  • A nearly unlimited and less regulated cyber market offers direct access to vulnerable populations. Traffickers can more cheaply distribute illicit material and advertise to a worldwide market.

  • Traffickers easily recruit and exploit victims through social media platforms, forums, discord and private chat servers, and online games—avenues frequented by children and youth. Traffickers can leverage information online (such as personal social media posts) to target more vulnerable individuals, such as those with unstable home lives or unemployment.

  • Direct messaging is curated and manipulated by traffickers posing as friends or providers to lead adults and especially children into abusive situations. For example, older adults will utilize popular livestreaming apps such as TikTok to access and groom children for exploitation.

Check out our blog on teens, technology, and trafficking for more information.

The International Justice Mission reports the grim experiences of cybersex trafficking from the Philippines. In one instance, a young girl was repeatedly exploited online at 12-years-old:

For nearly five years Cassie and several others—including a 2-year-old—were subject to horrific abuse in front of a webcam. The man who had promised her a brighter future instead profited from customers located all around the world as they paid to view sexual abuse and violence streamed online.

In the United States, nearly 70 million images, videos, and other child sexual exploitation files were reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline in 2019. And here in Pennsylvania, online child pornography accounted for 77% of cybercrime offense convictions between 2014-18.

And the situation has only worsened in 2020.

The FBI warned of trafficking dangers when people began to isolate in March, and a recent Europol report noted an increase in the digital activity of those seeking to sexually exploit children online. Predators posted on forums that they expect young people to be more vulnerable because of social isolation, less supervision, and increased computer usage.

The good news? Education and awareness can save countless victims. 

Parents and individuals, when equipped to spot potential grooming situations, can protect themselves and their children. Access resources from End Violence Against Children and, if you suspect online abuse, contact the CyberTipline. Now is the time to be vigilant for the ones we love.

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