It is not only destitute children from other countries that are at risk of being sexually exploited and trafficked. It is any young person that is not under the constant supervision of a caring adult. It is any young woman who feels insecure and isolated or who has a conflictual relationship with her parents. Girls from divorced or financially distressed families, as well as girls who have been previously sexually traumatized, all of these young women could be at risk.

Defenseless and easily manipulated girls are the type that “Lover boys,” or “Romeo pimps,” prey upon. The “Lover boy” approach is one of the primary ways that a girl can enter the life of sex trafficking.  “Lover boys” are charismatic, attentive and skilled in psychological manipulation.  Their tactic is as efficient as it is reprehensible.  A young man seeks out a girl whom he can easily seduce and manipulate by simply initiating a conversation, listening to what she needs and then providing it – affection, compliments, material things, financial stability, a home.  Once an emotional connection has been made the honeymoon phase is well under way, as she is conned into believing that her trafficker is her boyfriend.  Her emotional and physical needs now met, her “boyfriend” asks her to help him by contributing to their household.  Vulnerable and emotionally needy, the girl initially agrees to contribute by dancing for men or by going on a date with an older man, which quickly turns into prostitution.

This marks the victim being “turned out,” or sexually traded for money for the first time and ends the honeymoon phase abruptly.  Whatever the girl initially divulged is now used against her.  If she had previously communicated that she had a difficult relationship with her parents, she is now told that as a whore, her parents will reject and hate her.  If she had confided that she had been previously sexually traumatized, she is now told that it was her fault because she always has been a slut.  This type of predator turns a defenseless girl’s actions, under the guise of loving her boyfriend or under the influence of drugs and alcohol, into an unalterable statement about who she is and what she is worth, which serves to further break, isolate and control her.

As her relationship with the “Lover boy” becomes increasingly chaotic, controlling and violent, she is devastated at the loss of her relationship and becomes increasingly desperate to do as her boyfriend says in a futile attempt to regain his love and end the physical and emotional violence.  Many have heard of “Stockholm syndrome”, where to survive abuse and turmoil, a victim develops a psychological relationship with their predator.  Similarly, in the life of sex trafficking, a trauma bond commonly develops as a seemingly confounding condition where a relational connection is forged between the perpetrator and the victim, amid harassment, threats, abuse and psychological manipulation.

The importance of psychological manipulation and thought control cannot be overstated.  Bringing a susceptible child into a horrendous situation where she is emotionally attended to, then conned, possibly drugged, prostituted, beaten and degraded results in a trap that is despicably easy to fall into and arduous to climb out.  Psychologically speaking, once entrapped in the life of commercial sexual exploitation, the victim is “brainwashed into believing she has chosen a lifestyle of prostitution and is in complete control of her own life- fully convincing herself that she is not a victim,” but a willing partner in her own degradation, according to Alisa Jordheim, Founder and Executive Director of Justice Society.

There are no child prostitutes or teen prostitutes that have willingly chosen this life, not internationally, or at home in Georgia.  Our society has the opportunity to choose compassion over judgment, to open our eyes and ears to what is going on in our neighborhoods, churches and schools. This can be done by partnering with organizations like Street Grace that work to prevent sex trafficking through education, awareness and action while implementing online preventive measures against “buyers” of sex with minors through the Transaction Intercept Initiative.  Join us in our fight against domestic minor sex trafficking and help prevent another child from being caught in the web of lies and terror built upon the hardships of youth.

Val Abney-Smith, M.S., LMFT