Methods of trafficking
Traffickers are known to exploit potential victims’ vulnerabilities during recruitment and employ deception and manipulation which quickly escalates into violence. Many victims, therefore, belong to extremely poor households, dysfunctional families, have been abandoned with no parental care or portray some kind of risk-behavior.
The “Loverboy” method
The “Loverboy” method is a form of recruitment used by traffickers, in particular when it comes to sex trafficking of minor girls. The traffickers operate by trying to make vulnerable young girls or boys fall in love with them. Once they have the victims under their influence, they exploit them, for instance in the sex industry. During the last few years, social media has provided loverboys with new ways to establish contacts and create relationships with young girls and boys and persuade them to leave their communities. The Loverboy method is mainly reported in Eastern European countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Albania but also in Nigeria and Germany.
Another form of exploitation that has recently been reported in central and northern European countries is peer-exploitation and involves commodification of girls’ bodies for petty cash, often referred to as pocket money. The perpetrators are children themselves, and according to law enforcement some of them have no prior sexual experience, and the victims do not necessarily belong to a risk group or demonstrate any risk behavior. This phenomenon seems to indicate a shift in attitudes amongst youth towards a normalization of the commercialization of girls’ bodies and reports indicate that the easy access to, and normilization of, sexist and harmful gender stereotypical pornography, has contributed to a rise in young women and girls ending up in risky and exploitative situations on online platforms such as Only Fans.
Technological advancement has further exposed millions of children to traffickers. As more and more people access the internet, the trafficking, abuse and exploitation of children is no longer restricted to physical arenas but can be executed or facilitated anywhere at any time. Keeping abreast with technological shifts, traffickers now use the internet to operate in multiple locations at the same time. While adults are targeted through free-standing webpages, due to its high level of anonymity and widespread use by children, social media is often used to target them. The accelerating use of digital tools by traffickers puts enormous stress on the slow-moving laws and regulations in society, thereby transforming the online space into an arena where perpetrators can reach and exploit children with very limited consequences.
Furthermore, use of technology like deepfake is putting children at risk of being duped into performing sexual acts in front of a camera for an adult perpetrator. Through morphed images and videos created by deepfake technology, perpetrators can make unsuspecting children believe that they are talking to and engaging in sexual activity online with someone their own age, when in fact, a perpetrator is watching and often recording them on the other side.
Human trafficking, and especially that involving children, remains to be one of the most underreported crimes globally and real figures could be much higher. One of the reasons is the difficulties in victim identification and too many cases go unreported.