Behind nearly every story of human trafficking victimization, lies some vulnerability that a trafficker found and exploited. This common thread that runs through story after story, can help point us to solutions and prevention strategies.
Vulnerability can be many things. Children who come from broken, dysfunctional or abusive families are vulnerable. Children who are left to navigate social media and the internet without parental supervision are vulnerable. Children seeking love, affection, attention and affirmation outside of a safe, loving family are vulnerable. The experience of sexual abuse and trauma can create vulnerabilities that can lead to re-victimization. Even the simple, innocent naivety of children can make them vulnerable. Minorities are at a greater risk for exploitation. Poverty, homelessness, having a high-risk peer group, lack of opportunities, substance abuse, disabilities and many more reasons all can make one vulnerable.
Vulnerabilities, however can also be intervention opportunities. When a teenager runs away from an abusive home, we can meet them before the traffickers do. When a single mother is making difficult decisions about employment, housing and child care, we can help rather than leaving children in at-risk situations. We can help our homeless in meaningful ways. We can mentor and foster and advocate for youth in our child protective system, so they have a healthy and safe support system.
Alison Phillips is an adjunct professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City specializing in human trafficking.