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Social Media “Human Trafficking Panic” Posts

How often do you see posts about some bizarre situation that might lead to human trafficking? We've seen enough of them to have an entire series on them. I was invited to answer some questions by a reporter, but their outlet shut down before they completed the article. Here are the answers I sent in!

1. In your experience, are these types of social media posts about sex trafficking scares based on real and legitimate experiences people have with sex traffickers? 

Human Trafficking is a highly misunderstood topic that it's more than just , although in American culture, it seems to get the most media coverage.

The definition of human trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transporting, or procurement of a person for labor or services for the purpose of involuntary servitude, slavery, or forced commercial sex acts. In brief, human trafficking is exploiting someone for profit.

To respond specifically to your question, these stories being passed on could be real or they could be imagined, because these types of things really do happen to real people. There are known cases of things far worse, and I can understand the general fear. 

2. If not, can you explain how sex trafficking usually works? Can you go a little bit into how kids are most often targeted? 

This is a quote from Stacy Schaffer, executive director of 31:8 Project, and she is reflecting what is happening across the United States. 

“There's a lot of misconceptions that it's kidnapping. But to be honest that kind of trafficking is very rare here in North Dakota. Actually, what we see the most of right now is something we call familial trafficking, where it's the family member that is the trafficker.” 

Link: https://pbjlearning.com/2022/08/11/nd-advocates-say-more-victims-come-forward-but-human-trafficking-crimes-continue-to-rise-kfyr

It's unbelievable and inhumane. is really what we need to be concerned about, according to experts. 

Someone's level of concern should be based on measurable risk; you can't live on a heightened level of anxiety and survive. Being kidnapped is a small percentage of how people become trafficked. You are most likely to be trafficked by someone you know. The measured statistics on that are mind blowing, and should make you more concerned for yourself or others in your friend group or family. The real problem is that people need to become aware of their vulnerabilities that can put them at risk of becoming a victim of anything from up to and including human trafficking.

Human trafficking with regard to sex trafficking has become normalized in our culture, being shown as aspirational in television shows, movies, and more. Massively popular musicians, movies, and cable shows like “Pimp my Ride” have brought “pimp culture” to the masses. This completely masks the reality of many trafficked persons being raped 20-30 times a day, 7 days a week. You would think this would sicken someone and they wouldn't green light it, honestly, but here we are. Even having this normalized in a culture adds another vulnerability to someone.

Becoming a human trafficking victim generally begins with an assessment of someone's vulnerabilities. It's far easier to control someone that is experiencing homelessness or poverty or any number of other unmet needs. And the easier they are to control, the more money they can make a trafficker, and the harder it will be to get them to testify against them in court. 

The concepts of and are very deep and broad, but they can be summarized as ways of creating psychological bonds where the controller has ultimate control of what happens to the victim, and the victim will never complain.

We have to prevent this from starting, which is why I started Radical Empathy. To teach people how it feels when your very real need for attention and love is manipulated for someone else's benefit.

My partner, Dr. David Deeds, runs the YouTube channel, Human Trafficking Hater, and a TikTok channel of the same name. He has been posting short human trafficking videos on each, and watches how his more viral posts seem to match current “hot button” issues. Somehow you might get swept up in the algorithm, which causes a lot of drive-by likes. The real trick is to convert these new viewers into action, so he keeps trying to improve engagement with his audience. 

Links to supporting videos on Human Trafficking Hater

3. Can you also explain why these social media posts could be dangerous and misleading from your perspective?

I believe they contribute to a disproportionate amount of fear in a population, which is not healthy nor based on empirical data. It is real but rare.

When people live in fear, I believe it exacerbates otherism, as people want to have someone or something to blame, when the real problem is that society creates vulnerabilities that others exploit.

Prevention is the best way to end human trafficking.

We believe everyone needs to have at least one hour of training. Once we can all understand that this is a societal problem, we will be able to have an adult discussion about how to solve this. It's going to take a tidal wave of education, but we are already doing it.

4. Can you talk a little bit about how sex traffickers may use social media to get in contact with victims?

Speaking to the vulnerabilities and unmet needs of people most at risk, the method they use is called “grooming” and “recruiting.” You need to know these people are professionals and they have plenty of time to ensnare someone. 

There is generally an interview process where a trafficker assesses how easy it will be to control you. Early drug use, early sex, housing status, hunger, parental alienation, and other behaviors have been identified as vulnerabilities. 

The issue is that your children are broadcasting these on social media for the world to find. Traffickers lurk through games, social media, or chat rooms, and they are looking for the easiest prey. Imagine someone with a set of 3×5 cards, taking notes of what you say. “Parents get home at 5pm.” “My mom hates me.” “I had another horrible day at school.” “Cincinnati, Ohio.” They have plenty of time and patience. Sometimes they lay a trap for years.

They can eventually start talking about sex and promising them gifts, and if nudes get sent, those could be used to blackmail (coerce) someone. There are a million ways the door opens.

With social media, you need to understand that predators are literally in your (or your child's) pocket. And you're feeding them the information they could use to harm you.

The best thing we can do is at least start there. Lock down your online communications to only people you know. 

5. What are some of the red flags and warning signs of traffickers that both parents and kids should look out for?

I would like to offer this great analysis and information from :

“Individuals who are the most vulnerable tend to share the following personal factors:

  • A history of previous violence
  • A minority, typically targeted because of their sexual or gender identity
  • A struggle (previous or ongoing) of substance abuse disorders
  • Displacement from a home, either because of disaster, poverty, or migration

Understanding these vulnerabilities can enable you to be proactive. But while the above warning signs are attributed to the individuals themselves, there are also factors that are telling of the scenario as a whole. Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but it sheds some light on whether you may be witnessing a human trafficking situation.

  • If a person has no control over their own identification, passport, or personal money
  • If a person is requesting permission to perform simple tasks, such as using the restroom on their own If a person has bruises, scarring, or even branding marks
  • If a person is exhibiting strong signs of dependency issues”

Link: https://deliverfund.org/what-to-do-if-you-suspect-human-trafficking/

6. Why do you think these scary social media posts are so common right now? I feel like I've never seen as many as I do now.

There is a concept called “mass formation,” that shows that it is easier to control a population if they are in a state of generalized anxiety and fear, especially from an “invisible enemy,” like human trafficking (and kidnapping). I personally believe that this anxiety leads people to want to believe that clicking on a button is doing something significant and that this behavior will relieve their personal emotional discomfort.

I think of it as a barometer of societal stress. We need people to get beyond the click and actually do something, like get educated.

Here's a backgrounder on mass formation: https://podcasts.apple.com/gy/podcast/understanding-mass-formation-with-mattias-desmet/id1282044290?i=1000547412144

7. I've seen this brought up in other discussions and it's something I want to address: many of these posts are created by middle-class or upper-class white women and their kids. From my research, this is not the class of people who is most vulnerable to sex trafficking. Can you talk a little about who is most at risk? 

Human trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon that no group or area is safe from. It is all about money and power, which has no zip code. The persons most at risk are, simply, those with the greatest number of vulnerabilities. They add up.

I covered more specific vulnerabilities above, but I wanted to provide some information about different races in America:


  • In a two-year review of all suspected human trafficking incidents across the country, 94% of sex trafficking victims were female, 40% were Black, and 24% were Latinx.i
  • In South Dakota, Native American women represent 40% of sex trafficking victims, though Native Americans are only 8% of population.ii
  • In Cook County, Illinois 66% of sex trafficking victims between 2012-2016 were Black
  • women.iii
  • In Nebraska, 50% of individuals sold online for sex are Black, though Black people comprise only 5% of the general population.iv”

From: https://rights4girls.org/wp-content/uploads/r4g/2018/09/Racial-Justice-fact-sheet-Sept-2018-Final.pdf

“Indigenous people make up only 1.1% of the United States population, yet they account for nearly 25% of human trafficking victims.[4] Further, Indigenous women and girls are the least recognized and protected population.[5]”

From: https://lawblogs.uc.edu/ihrlr/2021/10/13/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-the-colonizing-nature-of-law/

Social Media Human Trafficking Panic Posts​

The answer is prevention education. 

Get educated. Check out Human Trafficking Essentials today!