There is not one specific demographic or profile of a person who has experienced human trafficking. Although trafficking and exploitation can pose a risk to all people, it is important to note there are vulnerable populations around the world that live at a higher risk for this abuse. In cases of human trafficking, there is a power dynamic: the trafficker has control over the person being trafficked. This dynamic becomes easier to create when the person being controlled is from an at-risk community with existing vulnerabilities or has previously experienced trauma and abuse.

Highly Vulnerable Populations

Any community that experiences inequality or lacks social support is at an elevated risk for human trafficking. The economically disadvantaged, those in the foster care system, racial minorities, and the LGBTQIA+ community are examples of groups that are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Traffickers around the world frequently prey on individuals who are young, poor, living in an unsafe or unstable situation, or are in search of a better life. Oftentimes, it is a false promise, such as a relationship or financial security, that is used to lure potential victims. 

Youth Experiencing Homelessness and the Economically Disadvantaged

Young people without an active guardian or who are lacking basic needs are at risk to be trafficked. Traffickers often offer to provide these basic needs, creating a power imbalance. Many risk factors overlap when examining homelessness among youth – young people are more likely to experience homelessness if they are LGBTQIA+, Black, or Hispanic. Economic disparities may cause those at risk to see perpetrators as trying to help, which can cause them to feel indebted to the other person or keep them from clearly seeing manipulation or abuse taking place.

The Foster Care System

The instability and constant change associated with the foster care system can lead to risk factors for human trafficking. Youth who run away from foster care are at an especially increased risk for victimization. According to a report from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 19% of youth surveyed who had run away from foster care were found to have likely experienced trafficking. Because of the complex needs and histories of children in the foster care system, it is easier for predators to manipulate offers of safety and security. The love and care traffickers may initially present is especially desired by those under their control.

The LGBTQIA+ Community

Many people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community feel ostracized from their families, friends, and society. Frequent discrimination and misunderstanding about this community may cause youth to run away from home or separate themselves from those closest to them. LGBTQIA+ youth are 7.4x more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than their non-LGBTQIA+ peers, and 3-7x more likely to engage in survival sex to meet basic needs, such as food or shelter. Traffickers may present themselves as understanding of the struggles of this community by offering to provide physical necessities and emotional support.

The Migrant Community

Migrants and refugees—especially those who are undocumented—are at a greater risk of human trafficking. The lack of resources and limited employment opportunities for those who are undocumented can lead to high-risk and exploitative labor. The United States Department of Justice notes that human trafficking can be found in both legal and illegal labor facilities. Child and elder care, the restaurant industry, salons, and agricultural work are just some of the specific industries where trafficking has been identified.

Racial Minority Groups

Racial minority groups are also at greater risk of human trafficking and exploitation. Historic discrimination has led to persisting disparities in education, healthcare, and economic opportunity for these groups. There is also a systemic bias to prosecute those who are part of minority groups rather than viewing them through a lens of potential victimization – the FBI has reported that 52% of all juvenile prostitution arrests are Black children, a disproportionately high number when compared to other racial groups. Native and indigenous populations also experience a particularly high risk for sexual violence and exploitation, however, there is less research and limited services available to these groups. These disparities across racial lines are important to recognize because they present additional barriers to combating the injustice of human trafficking and exploitation.

Serving Vulnerable Populations

Knowing which communities are at a greater risk for human trafficking is one of the first ways to help vulnerable populations. Prevention education for these groups is also critical. Free for Life believes the best way to protect future generations from cycles of abuse is to prevent the cycles from occurring in the first place. Because risk factors vary across vulnerable populations, FFLI’s prevention curriculum is tailored for each unique audience that receives training – participants learn how to prevent, identify, and respond to trafficking dangers with information that is as relevant to their needs as possible. It is important to view human trafficking as part of a greater societal narrative: the crime exists where a multitude of risk factors intersect and overlap. The better we can serve those in our communities who are vulnerable, the stronger our response to reducing human trafficking and exploitation will be.

Mallory Beach

Mallory Beach

Spring 2022 Intern

Mallory is one of Free for Life’s interns for the Spring 2022 term. She will be helping conduct research and supporting the other members of the team in all their tasks. Mallory is incredibly passionate about human rights work and believes that all people are deserving of the freedom to live fulfilling and vibrant lives; she wants to work in the nonprofit world for the rest of her career, specifically working in the women’s rights field. She is currently pursuing a degree at Belmont University, majoring in Faith and Social Justice with minors in Sociology and Public Relations. Mallory is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, but loves living in Nashville. In her free time, she loves caring for her many plants, working out, or reading a good fiction book.

Want to learn more about vulnerable populations?

join us for the intersection of human trafficking & orphan and foster care conference!

May 26th, 2022