Sex Trafficking – The Real Story

Sex trafficking.  Everyone has heard of it, but what is it?  What comes to mind when you think about a sex trafficking victim?  The image of a young Caucasian girl in ropes in a non-descript room comes to mind.  For example, a search for the phrase “sex trafficking victim” on iStock generated 11 pages and 636 images of Caucasian females. In actuality, according to the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, between January 2008 and June 2010, confirmed sex trafficking victims were more likely to be “white (26%) or black (40%), compared to labor trafficking victims, who were more likely to be Hispanic (63%) or Asian (17%).”  Yet simple searches for images of sex-trafficking disproportionality show young white females.  While the statistics lean towards African American females being more susceptible to being trafficked, victims can be of any age, race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, nationality, immigration status, cultural background, socio-economic class, and education attainment level.

 

 

 

 

In this article, analysts focus on what sex trafficking is and the actual statistics surrounding the crime, as well as information on how individuals are exploited into the life and the psychology behind this exploitation, understanding who is perpetuating this crime, and what you can look for as possible signs of being trafficked and lastly what are some verifiable things being done to assist in the combating of this heinous crime.

What is Sex Trafficking?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was created in 2000 and has been reauthorized five times since then.  According to the National Institute of Justice, “The TVPA was enacted to strengthen the ability of the federal government to combat human trafficking.”  The TVPA recognizes two forms of human trafficking; sex trafficking and forced labor.  The TVPA defines human trafficking as “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act (sex trafficking), in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”  Florida statute 787.06 further defines sex trafficking as the “Transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.”

According to Polaris, examples of frequently used means of control include:

Force: Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to the residence; restrictions on movement and communication to family and friends; forced abortions; lack of medical treatment or reproductive health.

Fraud: False promises of a better life through the trafficker presenting as a boyfriend or caretaker figure.

Coercion: Threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to their family and others in the community; confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents; forced dependency on the trafficker; rumors of or witnessed violence at the hands of traffickers used as threats; the cycle of rewards and punishments; threats of police involvement and arrest.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide. But unfortunately, due to the lack of a centralized repository and the subversive nature of the crime of sex trafficking, the exact number of underage children being trafficked in the United States is unknown.  Statistics further state that children, women, and men are being sold for sex in cities in all 50 states; in 2014, the Urban Institute studied the underground commercial sex economy in eight U.S. cities and estimated that this illicit activity generated between $39.9 million and $290 million in revenue depending on the city with nearly 300,000 youth at risk of being sexually exploited, according to a University of Pennsylvania study. The DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking states, “In 2018, the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline was contacted 41,088 times and reported 10,949 cases of human trafficking, a number that has increased annually. In the past five fiscal years, DHS received 6,171 reports to our Tip Line regarding suspected human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.”

In 2018 the Thorn Institute surveyed 260 survivors of sex trafficking survivors that stated the average age of entry into commercial sexual exploitation was roughly 12-14 years old. At the same time, the most frequently reported age of entry was 15 years old.  One in six persons surveyed reported being trafficked before the age of 12.  But according to numerous sources, including Polaris, they do not believe these stats are accurate.  The trafficking field relies on inaccurate and partial data obtained from small data sets until a more thorough and methodical examination is conducted.  According to Polaris, in 2019, of the 123 of the 292 survivors who disclosed their age when they first engaged in commercial sex to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTRC) or BeFree Textline, 44% of these survivors estimated that they were 17 or younger, and the average age of first participation was 19 years old.

The Exploitation Cycle

Through intensive manipulation, pretended affection, brutal violence, isolation, and emotional abuse, traffickers aggressively seek to destabilize their victims’ psyches and gain control over them.  Non-profit All Things Possible (ATP) explains that sex trafficking is a process that begins long before a victim is sold for the first time; to reiterate this point, ATP created the following graphic to explain how traffickers exploit their victims.

 

 

While each iteration of the cycle is distinct, they also blend. According to Jeff Tiegs, the COO of ATP, the “Assessment and Recruitment” and “Grooming” phases are “happening behind closed doors, they’re happening online, and oftentimes a law isn’t even broken yet.  To tell a lie is not against the law.  For me to pretend I’m a nice guy is not against the law, even for me to use fake names and things like, unless it’s fraudulent, is not against the law.”  In fact, he says, “it’s not until the Breaking phase that you have definitely crossed a line.”  To “Break” someone indicates that the trafficker has physically, emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically broken down the victim into this crime.  Moving forward in the cycle to “Automatic” and “Assessment & Recruitment,” this is where, Tiegs explains, the trafficker wants the victim to be.  “He wants to put the least amount of energy into one of these girls that he has to for the most amount of return.”

Psychology of Exploitation

Each phase of the Exploitation Cycle includes tactics and techniques often unbeknownst to the predator they use that rewires the victim’s brain, sometimes called brainwashing.  According to Tiegs, “…that intermittent reinforcement is creating this imbalance with this individual.”  The Founder of RubiesLV, Samantha Summers-Rivas, explains that traffickers mentally use psychological tactics to enslave their victims. “We’re not seeing physical chains, but there are emotional, mental, and spiritual chains.”  These psychological tactics are why many of the trafficked girls don’t even identify themselves as victims.  The brainwashing has them oblivious to the concept that they have been/are being exploited, let alone have been/are being trafficked.  Traffickers have an innate ability to study the victim, to find out what she needs, and for some time, to provide for those needs.  Making the victim believe that the trafficker is the only one who cares, is the only one who will or can provide for them.  Another way to learn how a trafficker manipulates the victim, according to Mrs. Summers-Rivas, is to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  They understand how to ensure that the victim relies on them for each need.  For more information on the Exploitation Cycle and the Psychology of Exploitation, check out ATPs “Protect Your Family: A Counter-Trafficking Course.”

Understanding the Traffickers, Who Are They?

Some basic information, traffickers often share the same national or cultural background as the victim, and they can be of any gender and age, according to Florida State University’s Human Trafficking Project, sponsored by the Attorney General of the State of Florida. A recent analysis revealed that among those who trafficked minors for sex: The trafficker’s average age was 28.5, and 45.1% of traffickers knew their victims.

Echo Analytics Group consulted with Detective Joseph Scaramucci of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office in Waco, Texas.  Detective Scaramucci is one of the nation’s top consultants for human trafficking with law enforcement in America and abroad and federal and DoD agencies. Scarmucci said that the numbers reported by agencies combating Human Trafficking are often misleading. “They also call people attempting to pay for sex from a minor a trafficker (while it meets many statutes that person is a buyer, not a trafficker). Often numbers can also be misinterpreted because of state laws.  Many times sex buyers can be legally classified as a human trafficker, although they have engaged in the purchasing of sex.”

Individual traffickers, more popularly referred to as “pimps,” are frequently the traffickers in street-based commercial sex scenarios. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a pimp as “a criminal who is associated with, usually exerts control over, and lives off the earnings of one or more prostitutes.” Most of the time, pimping does not entail consenting prostitutes to work for their own financial advantage, despite the widespread impression that it does.  Because victims may be sold and resold again, unlike with drugs or fake goods, sex trafficking can generate significant profits. Even though pimps receive significant profits from their victims, they frequently spend a sizable portion of their earnings on material possessions.  According to Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, “pimps dissipate their large incomes of several hundred thousand of dollars annually on expensive clothes, jewelry, and automobiles rather than saving their money or laundering it into the legitimate economy.”  This displayed sense of affluence helps to convince their victims that they can provide them with a flashy celebrity lifestyle, going above and beyond on the Hierarchy of Needs referenced above.

Although the relationships between these pimps and their victims may differ, they all use the same strategies to find, manage, and take advantage of their victims. Some pimps might just be taking advantage of one or a few victims, while others might be in charge of a more significant number of girls and women.  Referred to in the streets as a “stable.”  It has been seen that pimps have forced victims to recruit, manage, and discipline other victims, which could make them appear to be traffickers.  These particular victims are referred to, in the trafficking community, as “bottom bitches.”  These victims are often brutally beaten, they are generally branded or tattooed, they are responsible for ensuring the other girls in the stable are bringing the money home, and they are the ones who receive the punishment if the others “misbehave” in any way.  She is in charge when the pimp is away.  This victim has been mentally manipulated so intensely that she goes along with everything for the reward of being the “bottom,” for being in his favor, hoping not to get hurt or beaten again.

A statement from Tiegs regarding the background of some of those in the pimp game, “While I have zero sympathy for pimps.  Some people have arrived at the place where they have a certain level of compassion because many of these pimps were abused also.  Many of these pimps, they’re acting out and lashing out because they were physically and sexually abused as young men.  I intellectually can go there, but still, as a person, I just can’t excuse it because of the levels that they’re bringing it.”

Numerous well-known and convicted pimps have authored and directed books and films. They frequently receive celebrity status and are highly regarded in certain parts of American society, even though their song lyrics and writings boast about their manipulation and abuse of women.  These propaganda products are fantastic instruments for understanding how these people think and behave. When properly examined, the depravity and mental manipulation they prefer to operate in are abundantly clear.

Indicators of Trafficking

** Not all indicators listed below are present in every sex trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any indicators is not necessarily proof of sex trafficking. **

The first step in identifying potential victims is recognizing some critical indicators of sex trafficking, including physical indicators and verbiage used.  Regarding verbiage, if certain words are said/heard, it could indicate being involved or becoming involved in trafficking.  Examples of some of this verbiage (not all-inclusive) include: being in the life, or the game, bottom bitch, wifey, wifey-in-law, stable, choose-up fee, exit fee, daddy/king (especially said by multiple girls to one man), two girl special, and girlfriend experience or GFE.

 

Samantha Summers-Rivas said people should keep in mind the following when it comes to verbiage indicators, “These terms have become popular within our culture.  A lot of young people use these terms, and they have heard them in the hip hop music that they listen to now and different forms of music, and so they may not understand or know what they’re perpetuating or what they’re putting out there, but they just might, and they might be in the life.”

Along with verbiage indicators of being trafficked, there are numerous physical indicators that anyone can look out for. Some more often seen physical indicators include tattoos and branding on the neck or chest that shows a crown, a name, or a king’s crown. A girl dressed inappropriately for her age or the weather.  A minor with someone at a hotel during school hours or late at night.  A sudden or dramatic change in behavior.  Often disoriented or confused or showing signs of mental or physical abuse.  Bruises in various stages of healing.  Not able to travel or not able to freely leave where they live or work.  Was doing well in school, but their grades started slipping, dressing in skimpy clothing, and becoming more depressed and isolated from friends and family.

 

What Can I Do?

Echo Analytics Group (EAG) and ATP have partnered to host a quarterly event called, Skull Games.  Skull Games is an event where vetted volunteers come together, in person and online, for 48 hours with the goal of identifying as many victims and perpetrators of sex trafficking as possible.  These volunteers crowdsource the collection of open-source Information (OSINT) to assist law enforcement in generating lead packets on trafficked victims, missing children, and persons of interest.

Why is the operation called Skull Games?  An infamous pimp called “Iceberg Slim” was once quoted as saying, “Pimping isn’t a sex game; it’s a skull game.”  This is an example of the manipulation and the inherent demoralizing of the victims that those in the trafficking industry display.  Calling the operations “Skull Games” is a way to take back some of the power he and others like him have taken away from the numerous amounts of victims stuck in the life.

If you are interested in learning more about Skull Games and perhaps volunteering for the effort, please go to https://echoanalyticsgroup.com/skull-games/.

If you would like to know more information about ATP’s counter-trafficking efforts, please go to https://victormarx.com/trafficking-solutions/.

 

 

 

Echo Analytics Group Partners with All Things Possible for Fifth Skull Games Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

ECHO ANALYTICS GROUP PARTNERS WITH ALL THINGS POSSIBLE FOR FOURTH SKULL GAMES INITIATIVE

Counter Human Trafficking Event Coincides with Open-Intelligence Conference in Tampa

TAMPA, FL (October 13, 2022) –Echo Analytics Group (EAG) is partnering with All Things Possible (ATP) to host the fifth Skull Games event this Saturday-Sunday, October 15-16. The event coincides with Tampa hosting the eighth annual OSMOSIS (The Open-Source Intelligence Skills-Building) Conference for the first time, with industry experts attending from all over the world.

The Skull Games program crowdsources the collection of open-source intelligence (OSINT) to enable law enforcement with leads on trafficked victims and persons of interest. The two-day event brings together vetted volunteers who have experience in open-source intelligence (OSINT) to aid in the identification of victims and persons of interest to help combat sex trafficking. The volunteers work together at the EAG Operations Center and online across the country to partner and provide information and support to law enforcement. At the conclusion of the weekend, EAG and ATP send detailed reports to law enforcement with a path of discovery for them to obtain warrant or probable cause to find victims or criminals. To date, Skull Games has identified 45 girls and 20 persons of interests.

Jeff Tiegs, who served as a U.S. Army Ranger and Delta Force Operator, is the Chief Operating Officer of All Things Possible Ministries. Tiegs uses his expertise and experience to counter human trafficking with the help of Echo Analytics Group and their research platform, TORCH.

“The ability to recruit and groom victims is at an all-time high,” said Tiegs. “Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are riddled with predators. They are all over Minecraft and Roblox. They use mediums where you can share photos and videos. They are on Whisper and Scout, and they are on all the dating sites.”

“We are thrilled to combine Skull Games with OSMOSISCon, and work with ATP to help save lives and put an end to human trafficking,” said Buddy Jericho, CEO of Echo Analytics Group. “The work that Jeff and the team at All Things Possible is critical to helping law enforcement across the country.”

OSMOSIS is an annual Open-Source Intelligence Skills-Building Conference featuring experts in the field of open-source intelligence. These experts will present and demonstrate some of the most in-depth insider techniques and training. Jericho will also be speaking at the conference raising awareness on how OSINT is used to counter sex trafficking, and the success of Skull Games.

Media interested in Skull Games should contact Jeffrey Kamis at 813.784.3642 for more information and interview opportunities this week and weekend. In addition, media are invited to an Open House at Echo Analytics Group this Sunday, October 16 from 3-6 pm. Please RSVP HERE.

About All Things Possible

The mission of All Things Possible is to identify, interrupt and restore those affected by trauma. This is done through law enforcement support and enablement. For more information, visit https://victormarx.com/.

About Echo Analytics Group

Echo Analytics Group (EAG) is a veteran owned and operated intelligence firm based in Tampa, Florida. EAG brings military grade intelligence to the private sector, combining publicly available information with advanced research methodologies to empower businesses and people to make informed decisions. With the overwhelming amount of content created daily, EAG provides best-in-class research resources from tools, case management systems, investigations, education and even analysts to make real-time decisions. To learn more, visit: echoanalyticsgroup.com.

 

The Missing Narrative Behind Sex Trafficking Statistics

 

 

 

 

 

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide. Statistics further state that children, women, and men are being sold for sex in cities across the world, indifferent of age, race, ethinicity, gender, nationality, socio-economic class, or education.  

In 2014, the Urban Institute studied the underground commercial sex economy in eight U.S. cities and estimated that this illicit activity generated between $39.9 million and $290 million in revenue depending on the city, with nearly 300,000 youth at risk of being sexually exploited, according to a University of Pennsylvania study

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking states, “In 2018, the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline was contacted 41,088 times and reported 10,949 cases of human trafficking, a number that has increased annually. In the past five fiscal years, DHS received 6,171 reports to their Tip Line regarding suspected human trafficking and child sexual exploitation. 

As alarming as these statistics are, the challenge is their accuracy. Due to the sensitivity of the crime, early grooming ages, a lack of a central repository for law enforcement to work together, and the speed at which communication evolves based on the digital landscape, the margin of error is significant and the numbers just scratch the surface. Detective Joseph Scaramucci of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office in Waco, Texas, one of the top consultants for human trafficking within law enforcement, said that the numbers reported by agencies combating human trafficking are often misleading. “They also call people attempting to pay for sex from a minor a trafficker (while it meets many statutes that person is a buyer, not a trafficker). Often numbers can also be misinterpreted because of state laws. Many times sex buyers can be legally classified as a human trafficker, although they have engaged in the purchasing of sex.” 

In this Overwatch brief, analysts partnered with All Things Possible (ATP) to share the reality behind sex trafficking numbers as analysts continue to utilize #OSINTforGood (open-source intelligence for good) to combat the numbers you see above. The brief investigates how individuals are exploited into the lifestyle, the psychology behind it, individuals perpetuating such crimes, and early indicators of grooming.

The Perception of Sex Trafficking / The Missing Narrative to Sex Trafficking

In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was enacted to strengthen the federal government’s ability to combat human traffic. The TVPA recognizes two forms of human trafficking: sex trafficking and forced labor, and defines human traffficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act (sex trafficking), in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.” Florida statute 787.06 further defines sex trafficking as the “Transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person.”

By definition alone, it is not surprising the perception of sex trafficking is visualized like the mood board below:

The video mood board contains the 635 results when searching the key term “sex trafficking.” The majority of images are a female in a non-descriptive setting with a hand raise, ropes around a female’s wrists or money being exchanged. Overwatch and All Things Possible analysts who are subject matter experts on sex trafficking will share this is not an accurate depiction and is a more generalized representation of female victims. Many sex trafficking victims do not consider themselves as victims. 

The Exploitation Cycle

Through intensive manipulation, falsified affection, brutal violence, isolation, and emotional abuse, bad actors aggressively seek to destabilize their victims’ psyches and gain control over them. Our partner, All Things Possible (ATP), illustrates the sex trafficking process, which begins long before a victim is sold for the first time. Below is a graphic created by ATP to explain how traffickers exploit their victims:

Each phase of the exploitation cycle includes brainwashing tactics and techniques often unbeknownst to the predator, rewiring the victim’s brain. According to ATP COO Jeff Tiegs, “…that intermittent reinforcement is creating this imbalance with this individual.”  

The Founder of RubiesLV, Samantha Summers-Rivas, explains that traffickers mentally use psychological tactics to enslave their victims. “We’re not seeing physical chains, but there are emotional, mental, and spiritual chains,” said Summers-Rivas. 

This is why many of the trafficked girls do not identify themselves as victims. Traffickers have an innate ability to connect with victims, identify their needs and establish trust because their backgrounds are often similar to the cultural backgrounds as the victim, and they can be of any gender and age, according to Florida State University’s Human Trafficking Project, sponsored by the Attorney General of the State of Florida.

The Superficial Pimp Lifestyle

Individual traffickers, more popularly referred to as “pimps,” are frequently the traffickers in street-based commercial sex scenarios. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a pimp as “a criminal who is associated with, usually exerts control over, and lives off the earnings of one or more prostitutes.” Most of the time, pimping does not entail consenting prostitutes to work for their own financial advantage, despite the widespread impression that it does. Because victims may be sold and resold again, unlike with drugs or fake goods, sex trafficking has significant monetary gains and a business that allows pimps to live a lavish lifestyle filled with material possessions. According to Louise Shelley, Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective, “pimps dissipate their large incomes of several hundred thousand of dollars annually on expensive clothes, jewelry, and automobiles rather than saving their money or laundering it into the legitimate economy.” This displayed sense of affluence helps to convince their victims that they can provide them with a flashy celebrity lifestyle, going on to write books, direct films and write songs. 

Although the relationships between these pimps and their victims may differ, they all use the same strategies to find, manage, and take advantage of their victims. Some pimps take advantage of one or a few victims, while others might be in charge of a stable. The consistent theme is pimps forcing victims to recruit, manage, and discipline other victims, which could make them appear to be traffickers.

Tiegs states, “While I have zero sympathy for pimps, some people have arrived at the place where they have a certain level of compassion because many of these pimps were abused also. Many of these pimps, they’re acting out and lashing out because they were physically and sexually abused as young men. I intellectually can go there, but still, as a person, I just can’t excuse it because of the levels that they’re bringing it.”

Trafficking Indicators

Social media has granted greater mobility for traffickers. After reading this brief, you may scroll through social feed and may recognize some critical signs of sex trafficking both through visuals and captions. There are certain words that are said/heard/written, that could indicate being involved or becoming involved in trafficking. Examples of some of this verbiage (not all-inclusive) include: being in the life, or the game, bottom bitch, wifey, wifey-in-law, stable, choose-up fee, exit fee, daddy/king (especially said by multiple girls to one man), two girl special, and girlfriend experience or GFE.

Summers-Rivas said people should keep in mind the following when it comes to verbiage indicators, “These terms have become popular within our culture. A lot of young people use these terms, and they have heard them in the hip hop music that they listen to now and different forms of music, and so they may not understand or know what they’re perpetuating or what they’re putting out there, but they just might, and they might be in the life.”

Along with verbiage indicators of being trafficked, there are numerous physical indicators that anyone can look out for. This includes tattoos and branding on the neck or chest that shows a crown, a name, or a king’s crown. Another is a girl dressed inappropriately for her age or the weather. It could also be a minor with someone at a hotel during school hours or late at night. Oftentimes, a sudden or dramatic change in behavior could be another sign.

** Please note: not all indicators listed above are present in every sex trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any indicators is not necessarily proof of sex trafficking. **

Our Assessment

Through this assessment, sex trafficking in the United States will continue to rise with digital technology making communication across the world easier and without dedicated resources to centralizated information, these criminal acts will continue to be a flourishing business. Although the statistics are inaccurate, the numbers are significant as traffickers continuously trolling through social media and chatrooms to find potential targets prey on the expressive vulnerabilities on social media, prime for grooming. Read more in our previous Overwatch brief, “Trafficking and Why Grooming on Social Media is a Major Issue“.

Analysts dedicated to #OSINTforGood and organizations like All Things Possible will continue to flourish and enable law enforcement with the resources needed as open-source intelligence (OSINT) becomes a critical skill set. Echo Analytics Group and All Things Possible have seen this success through Skull Games, an effort to bring the OSINT community together. Over the past year, the partnership has conducted 4 Skull Games resulting in identifying 45 girls and 20 persons of interest. The next Skull Games is scheduled the weekend of October 14th. To learn more about open-source intelligence and Skull Games, we invite you to attend our upcoming Open House on Sunday, October 16th from 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. RSVP here.

Skull Games Volunteer Form

If you have NO background in OSINT, you must complete the OSIA course prior to submitting your volunteer application.