The Hidden Side of Human Trafficking: Grooming and Brainwashing Unsuspecting Victims

December 20, 2019 Updated: December 23, 2019


Courtney Litvak was a normal teenager who went to an upscale suburban high school in Katy, Texas. It was during this time that the unthinkable happened—she was pulled into the dark world of human trafficking.

When people imagine this issue, it’s easy to recount stories of victims who are violently snatched off the street and thrown into a vehicle that speeds off into the night.

But, there’s a less-discussed, more subtle, and more sinister method by which traffickers obtain their victims—they befriend them and coerce them into selling their own bodies.

“Contrary to some misconceptions, human trafficking crimes do not require any smuggling or movement of the victim,” the U.S. Department of Justice states. “The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological, but it must be used to coerce a victim into performing labor, services, or commercial sex acts.”

Litvak was one such victim. She was coaxed into trafficking through a process called “grooming.”

“First it’s establishing, most of the time, the relationship over [the] phone and you’re going to grow to trust this person enough to where you’ll allow them to pick you up at night, you will sneak out; this was something that took place in my personal story,” Litvak told The Epoch Times in an interview in which she described the early stages of her grooming process.

Human trafficking victims often know the person luring them into this malevolent practice. Similar to other forms of abuse, traffickers exploit the trust that victims have established with them over long periods of time.

“I began sneaking out at night and this was somebody who knew a mutual friend of a mutual friend. So, typically somebody who you sit next to in one of your classes, somebody who you’ve known since junior high, a familiar face, somebody who you’ve heard their name before—that establishes credibility to make you more willing to trust this person. … It is very well organized and it’s very well networked; it is never a one-man show,” Litvak said.

Statistics on human trafficking are difficult to gather. A 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Health cited more than 300,000 young people were estimated to be at risk for sexual exploitation in the United States. And the average age of a teen who enters the sex trade is between 12 and 14.

End Slavery Now lists the six stages of grooming for sexual exploitation:

1. Targeting a Victim. Traffickers target victims who have some noticeable vulnerability: emotional neediness, low self-confidence or economic stress.
2. Gaining Trust & Information. This can be done through casual conversations with the victim or parents. Traffickers often mix well with other adults.
3. Filling a Need. The information gained allows the traffickers to fill a need in the victim’s life, making the victim dependent on them in some way: buying gifts, being a friend, beginning a love relationship, or buying soft drugs and alcohol.
4. Isolation. The trafficker creates time to be alone with the victim, have a major role in the victim’s life and attempts to distance the victim from friends and family.
5. Abuse Begins. The trafficker begins claiming that a service must be repaid whether money spent on cigarettes or drugs, car rides, or mobile phones. In most cases, the trafficker demands sex as payment for such services.
6. Maintain Control. The trafficker maintains control of the victim through threats, violence, fear, or blackmail.”

“This is a strategic, methodical process. It is organized crime,” Litvak said. “There are ulterior motives and the people who are taking children, adults, girls, boys, this crime does not discriminate—they are master manipulators and they understand there are these gaps in society and they feed off of that. My trafficker fed off of that, trying to convince the public that I was OK.”

Human trafficking arrests have surged under the Trump administration. In just his first month as president, the United States saw in excess of 1,500 arrests for sex crimes. It was also reported that in the first 18 months of the Trump administration, there were roughly 9,200 trafficking arrests, compared to only 1,238 trafficking arrests during the first two years of the Obama administration.

Evil exists in this world. And although it’s being aggressively pursued and stamped out, it’s still critical that parents and their children are aware that this issue is real and can reach you without regard to your ZIP code or socioeconomic status.

Know the warning signs, so that you can recognize if and when someone may be attempting to groom you or someone you know.

The FBI has provided a hotline to provide assistance to victims of trafficking at: 202-324-3000.

Victims or concerned parties from anywhere in the country may also call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at: 888-373-7888 for help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Adrian Norman is a writer and political commentator.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.