The study by Covers, M. & Muelen, P., Invisible Victims Of Human Trafficking In 2021, Dutch Centre Against Child Trafficking and Human Trafficking (Centrum tegen Kinderhandel en Mensenhandel - CKM), 17 Oct 2022, discusses the 285 Dutch victims of human trafficking in 2021 who contacted the treatment and expertise center Fier’s anonymous chat line (similar to our National Human Trafficking Hotline – Polaris). This number represented a 14% increase over 2020 but more alarmingly, one in six (16%) victims was being exploited by one or both of their parents. Chat with Fier has managed to reach and support nearly eight hundred victims over the past three years.
“Many victims have been sexually exploited for a year or more when they seek help, a quarter for five years or more. This results from these victims falling almost completely off the radar,” according to CKM spokesperson Shamir Ceuleers. These are often children who are not yet known to social workers or the police. One in five victims is under the age of 15. “It mainly concerns girls, although the number of boys coming forward is also increasing. The aid workers also increasingly see victims forced to commit criminal acts. In 2021, these were mainly girls. Some of them were both sexually and criminally exploited,” the CKM spokesperson said.
These victims are often difficult to identify, which means their parents can exploit them for years. “The extremely unsafe situation in which these children find themselves call for concrete actions. We, therefore, urge the State Secretary of Justice and Security to investigate how to better identify and protect these children and stop their parents.”
The visibility of Dutch victims of human trafficking in the Netherlands is poor. A lack of trust, fear of reproach from society and the real risk of reprisals from the perpetrator can prevent victims from seeking help. Ceuleers: “Anonymous online assistance has proven itself in recent years as a low-threshold means of contacting victims who cannot be reached in any other way. According to the CKM, however, we can reach even more victims if online assistance becomes a structural part of the existing approach to human trafficking.
It Happens in the USA as Well
Unfortunately, familial trafficking happens in our country as well. Awareness is increasing among anti-trafficking professionals that the threat presented by friends and family members is as significant, possibly more so, than the threat presented by strangers. Our systems and practices are not consistent in inquiring about the possibility that familial trafficking took place or in documenting its existence, nor are we informed about unique interventions or services that would best serve the victims. Henderson, M., Public Management Bulletin #24, UNC School of Government Public Intersection Project, Sep 2022, reminds service professionals to inquire about the possibility of familial sex and/or labor trafficking, to accurately label cases that involve that dynamic, and to encourage our collective learning about and implementation of successful proactive and reactive strategies to alleviate the suffering caused by this crime.
Foretek, J., Familial Human Trafficking on the Rise Across Region, InsideNOVA, 26 Sep 2022, said Prince William County Police Chief Peter Newsham and Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares had little in the way of specific data to describe the scale of human trafficking in the Northern Virginia area, but Miyares said familial trafficking – in which a family member, often deeply addicted, will traffic a young woman in their family – has become more frequent. “We’ve seen an explosion of familial trafficking, family members that are struggling with addiction that then traffic their own children, their own daughters,” Miyares told reporters.
Sprang, J., Familial Sex Trafficking: Victims Hiding in Plain Sight, Face It blog, 9 Jan 2020, discusses familial sex trafficking of minors. This type of trafficking occurs when a family member (the trafficker) gives offenders sexual access to victims or pornography in exchange for something of commercial value (e.g. drugs, money, etc. The Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC) operated by the Institute of Medicine reports that almost half of child human trafficking cases began with some family member involvement.
Hartmann, M., Familial Trafficking: A Crime Against Children, The Exodus Road, 5 Apr 2019, states more than 200,000 children are victims of sex trafficking in the U.S. every year, and their families or family friends are the most likely to exploit them. For 90% of victims, child trafficking starts in the home. The average age of a victim of familial trafficking in the U.S. is only five years old, and some children are victimized as early as infancy.
Sprang, G., & Cole, J., Familial Sex Trafficking of Minors: Trafficking Conditions, Clinical Presentation, and System Involvement, Journal of Family Violence, Vol. 33, No. 3, 13 Feb 2018, pp. 185–195, sample in which all traffickers involved were family members, 64.5% were mothers and 32.3% were the victim’s father. A high percentage of cases (81.8%) involved parents who used illicit drugs as the currency to profit from trafficking of their children. In every case the parent resided with the child during the exploitation period. The victim’s drug addiction (29% of cases) was also utilized to engage and sustain the child youth in trafficking. Almost 60% of familial trafficking victims have ongoing contact with their trafficker, making it exceedingly difficult for children and youth to remove themselves from harmful situations and protect themselves—both physically and psychologically.
What Can We Do?
Be observant. If something feels off or wrong or if a child shows any signs of sex trafficking, take a closer look. Teachers and school personnel are the most likely group to come into regular contact with victims of familial trafficking—but are by no means the only ones. If you suspect a child you know is being trafficked by a family member or anyone else, file a report with local law enforcement or contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888). Do not become a vigilante and attempt to contact or confront a suspected trafficker or rescue a victim yourself; you could make a situation much worse for the child, put yourself in serious danger, and/or interfere in the successful prosecution of the perpetrator(s).