It is rarely the case that trafficking victims will step out and ask for help, identifying themselves as victims of human trafficking, children especially. By understanding barriers to victim self-identification, service providers and the community can better meet their needs. While each person has a unique experience, below are common reasons why young people do not self-identify.
- Fear – Fear of the unknown may seem worse than any difficulty they are currently experiencing. Young people who have previously interacted with child welfare or law enforcement may have had negative experiences that prevent them from viewing these actors as allies or sources of help.
- Labeled ‘Bad Girls’ or ‘Bad Kids’ – Young people may feel that they are already labeled by adults or authority figures as bad kids, rather than kids who need help. This concept is reinforced by society labeling minor victims as ‘defiant,’ or ‘child prostitutes,’ and therefore not likely to receive help if they asked for it.
- Being Monitored – Minor victims do not have the opportunity to reach out for help if their trafficker is present or monitoring their use of cell phones and online interactions.
- Identifying a Trafficker as a Loved One – If a young person perceives a trafficker to be a boyfriend or girlfriend, a trusted friend, or a parent or other family member, they may be less likely to identify the trafficker as an abuser, or think that no one would believe them if they reported
- Shame and Self-Blame – Young people may believe that they are to blame for this situation, or that there is a stigma in discussing it
- Not Knowing Whom To Trust – In an abusive situation, where traffickers and buyers may be physically and sexually abusive while simultaneously acting as intimate partners, it may be very difficult for victims to identify people who can help.
- Limited Resources – Minors may not have access to cash, transportation, or possibly even their own identification or document
- Hopelessness – Commercially sexually exploited minors may experience a sense of resignation to their situation
- Misinformation – Traffickers may convince young people that they are the only person who cares about them, that the victim can’t trust the outside world, that no one will help them, and that they will be penalized for being a prostitute if they try to leave