Cybersex Trafficking: Grooming & Exploitation Online
Cybersex trafficking is the exploitation of a person through the internet via webcam, photos, videos, or other digital media. Like sex trafficking, the victim is forced to provide sexual services via force, fraud, or coercion. Unlike sex trafficking, victims will likely never come into contact with most of their buyers. Instead, their traffickers may assault, live-stream, film, or photograph them from a central location—which can be anywhere in the world with an internet connection—and send the material to paying online predators.
The internet has created a way for people to instantly connect with others around the world, and connections are only becoming faster and stronger as technology continues to evolve. While this is wonderful for families, long-distance friends, and those with common interests, it also makes it easier for traffickers to find, recruit, and exploit unsuspecting victims without getting caught.
Worldwide, more than 4 billion people are using the internet, which is well over half the world’s total population.1 This gives traffickers virtually limitless marketing potential and direct access to many vulnerable populations, such as unmonitored children, runaways, those experiencing homelessness, and those living in isolation or poverty.
In many countries, traffickers are seeking opportunities to continue their operations without leaving traces of their location or identity for law enforcement to find. For many, this means moving their operations into cyberspace.
The internet can provide traffickers with a layer of protection against the law. In many cases, perpetrators are able to remain essentially anonymous—using pseudonyms, fake photos, and virtual private networks (VPN). Additionally, the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin—popular on the dark web—make monetary exchanges harder to trace back to personal bank accounts.
TRADITIONAL SEX TRAFFICKING
|Trafficker exploits the vulnerable to a limited amount of customers, who are physically present at scene of crime.||Trafficker exploits the vulnerable to a potentially unlimited number of customers, who do not have to be in same physical location.|
|The cost of attracting and hosting customers can be high and can involve things like: advertising, rent, staff, security, etc.||The cost of attracting and servicing customers is incredibly low and can include only: a computer, internet services, small room, etc.|
|Trafficker must be hyper-aware of concealing crime.||Trafficker has protections available to conceal online activity.|
|Trafficker may have to transport or sell victim in an attempt to evade arrest.||Trafficker can remain at single location while exploiting victim.|
|Governments are likely to have personnel trained to arrest and/or prosecute crime.||Governments may not have manpower or resources to investigate caliber of crime.|
Grooming Children Online
American statistics reveal that nearly 80% of the American population owns smartphones and up to 98% of middle school students have access to Wi-Fi. Worldwide, youth aged 15–24 are the most connected age group; 71% of this demographic is currently online. Platforms like social media, forums, discord/private chat servers, and online games—all places where children and youth are highly active—are ideal environments for traffickers to both recruit and exploit victims.
Traffickers can take the shape of faceless online “friends” who spend months grooming (befriending and building a relationship with) children to build trust over time so they can coax them into a life of abuse and exploitation. By initially giving the victim attention, care, and gifts or making enticing promises, traffickers can gain the confidence of unsuspecting youth.
Traffickers use many similar deception tactics online as they do offline. They might promise a good job to a poor student, pose as a role model or caring significant other to create dependence, or entrap a victim through indentured servitude for a compounding loan. Once a relationship is established, the trafficker can then manipulate or coerce the victim into performing sexual acts online, on the street, or both.
Predators use manipulation to put their targets into situations where they will comply with their predator’s sexual demands.
Initial manipulation often involves introducing minors to sexual activity, showing them pornography and requesting sexually explicit information and pictures.
A young person doesn’t even have to leave the house to be trafficked. It can occur right behind a closed bedroom door.
Know How To Report It
If you, your friends, or your children notice suspicious behavior online, report it immediately. In severe cases, in which images or advertisements show underage individuals, file a report containing any relevant information you find—screen names, user IDs, links, etc.—with the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline.
The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline responds to all forms of human trafficking including both sex and labour trafficking. The hotline provides assistance to and on behalf of minors, adults, males, females, transgender individuals, gender non-conforming individuals, citizens, permanent residents, and foreign nationals.
The hotline uses a victim-centered approach to connect human trafficking victims and survivors with emergency, transition, and long-term supports and services. The hotline acts as a central response and referral mechanism, offering 24/7, multilingual access to a safe and confidential space to ask for help, connect to services, and, report tips.
In short, if you see something, don’t hesitate to speak up. Your tip may help prevent someone from becoming a victim, lead to the rescue of a victim, or cause the arrest of an online predator.