San Francisco is proving to be a sex trafficking hub, and predators are becoming more creative in ways to target victims. With social media and ride-hailing apps, tracking down victims is as simple as the click of a button.
California Against Slavery reported that the top three of 10 worst child sex trafficking areas in the United States are in California: San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, with 270 sex trafficking cases reported in 2016.
According to Polaris Project, an anti-human trafficking organization, sex traffickers often target at-risk individuals who are homeless or running away, as well as people who face social discrimination. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, and sometimes romance and friendship to coerce their victims.
On Sept. 18, Lynne Knowles, a 55-year-Florida woman, posted a video addressing human trafficking advances she and her friends faced in their hometown of Publix, Florida. According to Knowles, human trafficking even occurs in public places, like grocery stores and parking lots, where she was targeted. The video she posted went viral, reaching 18 million views.
Knowles stirred up a conversation regarding human trafficking and how pervasive it is in targeting women of all ages.
Over the past year, new methods of sex trafficking have been surfacing on the web in posts by victims warning others of how they were taken advantage of.
Some sex traffickers are “catfishers” online, others pretend to be your Uber or Lyft driver.
When a San Franciscan man posing as a rideshare driver raped four girls after picking them up from San Francisco nightclubs earlier this year, rideshare apps like Lyft initiated new security checks to new and current drivers.
Additional stories have been surfacing on the web of sex trafficking trends in which women who work for a sex trafficker stand on the side of the road, calling for help. Once the woman is picked up by another woman trying to help her, she guides the unsuspecting victim to her “home,” but really is guiding them back to her sex trafficker. This is one of the many ways sex trafficking victims work for their sex traffickers — by manipulating other women.
Another recent trend is when sex traffickers attempt to sell perfume to a victim. When the victim samples the perfume they are “selling,” the victim passes out, as the sample is laced with drugs, and is then taken advantage of by the trafficker.
These manipulative tendencies are garnishing popularity among sex traffickers, and with new access to victims through social media and apps, we need to be more aware than ever of our surroundings.
Congress recently enacted a sex trafficking statute that includes mandatory minimum punishments, such as 15 years in prison for sex trafficking someone under 14 years old. This has scared off many sex traffickers, but many still persist.
In order to keep ourselves safe from these dangers, we must take precautions, like being aware of the signs that a victim of sex trafficking is attempting to lure you. These signs include: the person having little to no possessions, sounding scripted when talking, not being able to leave or go home when they please, living with many people, being economically unstable or having an inconsistent salary, and showing they have faced physical harm.
It is not our job to take in and rescue victims of sex trafficking, as this can put us in a dangerous situation. We can, however, refer or report them to organizations such as the San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking or Freedom Fwd. Reporting to the police should be done in a smart manner where the victim does not perish in fear of discipline from their sex trafficker.
If you or someone you know is being affected by human trafficking, please call the human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.