Chuck Paul, an anti-trafficking subject matter expert, recently explained how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting local trafficking victims.
According to Paul, teens and young adults have flooded the local drop-in center and shelter for trafficking victims when their traffickers ditched them.
"Prior to the pandemic, traffickers had what they call their stable of young people that they exploit,” Paul said. “After the pandemic hit and everything started to shut down, the ability for a trafficker to sell a person was greatly diminished because this person wasn’t making them money, they just got rid of them,” Paul said. “They dropped them off on the streets and said ‘you’re on your own.‘”
Now, with the pandemic entering a new, less restricted phase, Paul is saying that traffickers are on the lookout for new victims.
“The traffickers have to re-supply their stock of slaves,” Paul said. “I’m calling it what it is. There’s a huge population of young people right now that are stuck at home, they haven’t been going to school. Their only social contact is social media, and the traffickers are working hard on social media to target whichever child they can.”
Traffickers are looking for youth in places where parents may not expect, like social media and online gaming platforms. Parents need to be aware who their child is talking to on social media or multiplayer video games. Parents need to be made aware of any person using a secret identity. Traffickers may be attempting to groom the child with gifts or attention on websites and web-based applications.
Traffickers are also combing the streets for runaways, homeless or foster youth, first offering them food, shelter and protection, then eventually making them provide sex as payment.
Other things to watch out for:
Receiving gifts in the mail or from Amazon that you didn’t buy
Becoming more secretive
Staying up late at night, especially online
Changes in their friends or activities
Being more disrespectful or disconnecting from family
Traffickers groom their victims with gifts, promises, and praise. Their goal is to separate them from loved ones in order to control them more easily, so shifts in engagement with family or general attitude towards family and friends is a warning sign.
“Traffickers are seeding these ideas in their heads that their family doesn’t really care about them. So that trafficker can come in and be that trusted person,” Paul explained.