Trap Doors: Entrances to Secret Places


by: Michelle McHugh Slater DNP, RN, CNOR


In 2012, then Ohio Governor John R. Kasich formed the Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force to coordinate state efforts to combat human trafficking crimes. Over the past five years, this Task Force of thirteen Ohio governmental agencies has outlined the “building blocks” of their policy program around the framework of the “3P” (Prevent, Protect, Prosecute) according to their January 2017 report. A statewide campaign was launched in 2014 to raise awareness of this crime.

The awareness campaign is working!

In one year, the call rates to the National Human Trafficking Hotline from Ohio increased by 32%, ranking Ohio as the fourth highest number of cases reported to the national hotline.

The Ohio Task Force estimates 3,000 minors are at-risk in the state. The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 1,352 calls in 2016 specifically related to Ohio, with 373 human trafficking cases reported. Of the 373 cases reported, sex trafficking accounted for 74%, labor trafficking accounted for 12% and a mix of the two accounted for another 14%.

So, how do individuals become caught in this cycle of violence and crime?

Where are the hidden traps and how are victims enticed? What tactics are used as bait and switch?

Once the trap is sprung, the underground economics of the trade have a profound impact on a victim’s ability to escape.

The Scout

The Urban Institute in Washington D.C. reports scary statistics on commonly used recruitment methods which are most often public locations and social groups.

Pimps point out that transportation hubs are a primary means of access to victims. This trapdoor accounts for a mere 2.7% of victim recruitments though.

Social circles (42.5%) and the home neighborhood (38.4%) of victims are the primary access points to targets.

The Star Tribune news found not all traffickers to be adults. A suburban high school cheerleader was arrested in Minneapolis for recruiting younger students with an online ad and by driving these victims to customers.

The Local Memphis news agency found a Tennessee trafficker used teenage boys to recruit local high school girls and paid them 1/5 of the girls’ profits.

Another third of human trafficking victims are recruited from bars and night clubs. The internet accounts for a quarter of the access points to victims. Pimps have also been quick to point out that malls, high schools and college campuses also provide a gateway to opportunity to ensnare victims.

The average pimp views recruitment of human trafficking victims as the key strategic piece of their business.

These traffickers tend to target vulnerable populations. Vulnerable persons are often youth and adolescents that are runaways or homeless for a variety of reasons.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHRC) has found a link between trafficking victims and persons with histories of childhood sexual abuse, chronic neglect, and unstable home environments.

Evidence from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates that lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender adolescents are five times more likely than heterosexual youths to become victims of trafficking. Other risk factors that an astute pimp looks for in a victim are: isolation, emotional distress, poverty, family dysfunction, substance abuse, mental illness, and low self-esteem.

The Lure

So what is the lure? How are victims manipulated into trafficking?

According to the Urban Institute, interviews with pimps serving time for trafficking state they intentionally recruit minors because minors “are easy to control, work hard, and are more marketable.”  Feelings of isolation, rejection, and abandonment increase risks for falling prey to the lures of a trafficker. Traffickers are able to recruit teenagers into the industry by exploiting normal feelings that are part of the maturation process.

Examples of these feelings that increase risk for victimization include: being misunderstood by parents, looking for romantic connections, self-esteem issues, and a lack of self-worth.

Pimps seek the most vulnerable in society to emotionally manipulate and physically force into compliance. Different methods are used depending on the context of the situation, however, all pimps use some form of intimidation. NHTRC notes traffickers use social media sites, such as Facebook, to recruit. A decoy, often a peer, will befriend the target and begin to groom them for the trafficker. This may involve taking the target to parties, creating romantic relationships or providing drugs. When a decoy is not used, the pimp may approach the victim as a love interest. The promise of love from the pimp is a psychological control that leads to exploitation. The pimp makes false promises to the victim and often uses verbal and physical abuse for compliance.

A prostitution survivor from Chicago tells the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority, “He promised me everything and better. Clothes, car, house, himself. I was just looking for someone to love and love me.”

The Business

Supply and demand drive the market for this criminal industry. The demand is for cheap labor and commercialized sex. The supply consists of human trafficking victims. Pimps often refer to their human trafficking victims as employees. Pimps create rules, quotas and performance incentives to regulate employee behavior.

The Urban Institute interviewed pimps to better understand the nature of the business. According to the information obtained in these interviews, most pimps used denial of basic necessities to create dependency and incentives with material rewards. The following are quotes from these interviews.

“I don’t like none of my girls to have a habit. I smoked weed so I don’t have a problem with them smoking weed…no hard drugs…I’d put some money in their bra, take a little to get high with and then send them away.”

                 “I had a quota of $600-if they came back with $550, or $599, she had to go back out.”

Human trafficking is one of the most profitable criminal industries as it is high profit and low risk.

Human traffickers not only exploit their victims, but they exploit legitimate industries to facilitate their operations. Traffickers create networks and use not only pimps, but also family owned operations, small businesses, and criminal groups. Human trafficking may be hidden within business industries that are legitimate which makes detection difficult.


According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking networks is estimated to have victimized 1.5 million Americans. These estimates soar to 20.9 million victims in the globally. Human trafficking is modern day slavery. Force, fraud, coercion, and abuse controls victims and forces uncompensated labor and/or commercial sex acts without the victim’s consent.

“Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it – in partnership with you. The change we seek will not come easy, but we can draw strength from the movements of the past. For we know that every life saved – in the words of that great Proclamation – is ‘an act of justice’, worthy of ‘the considerate judgement of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God’.”

  • President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012