Who Are Traffickers? Gangs, Trafficking, and Prevention

When trafficking cases are reported in the news, the victims are usually faceless. This anonymity isn’t necessarily a bad thing; a victim of human trafficking has been brutalized. Traffickers will try to break the victim’s sense of self-worth, dignity, and spirit. Traffickers don’t require willingness, just compliance, and will inflict whatever pain and humiliation they can in order to get it. 

Trafficking prevention requires understanding it–why it occurs, who the perpetrators are, and how they lure victims. Traffickers come in many forms. They can be family members, gang members, or people in any position of authority over the victim. They often rely on a mix of terror and need– for love, safety, or other basic necessities– to control their victims.

In 2022, WTOP, a news outlet in Northern Virginia, reported on the prosecution of several men and one woman affiliated with MS-13.They were charged with trafficking and exploiting a minor. MS-13 is a gang, originally from Los Angeles, that has grown rapidly throughout the United States and is heavily involved with drug, gun, and human trafficking.

MS-13 frequently targets young and vulnerable minors for recruitment, often undocumented children fleeing violence in their home countries, to recruit. With no other safety net, these minors often feel they have no choice but to join, according to an analysis by the Washington Office on Latin America. Tragically, these victims may become perpetrators themselves. As one former gang member said, “I think that when you think about it, young people who are looking for something to gravitate toward, that feeling of ownership or belonging.” Another former gang member reports joining at nine years old, for protection from his violent uncle. 

The United States federal and local governments have launched a number of initiatives to combat MS-13. Several high-profile leaders have been sentenced to life in prison or are facing terrorism charges. This may seem like too big a problem for anyone to solve, but happily, grassroots action can be incredibly effective at preventing recruitment. Grassroots action means community, and means you!

What Can You Do?

  • Be the difference! It just takes one adult! Mentors are always needed. Studies show the huge impact one caring adult can have on a child’s life.

Quality time, encouraging academic success, mentorship, teaching life skills are all ways you can show a child, who needs attention that they are worth it!

  • Be a leader!

Set up after-school programs, youth clubs, or sports leagues in your community. Children are always worth your time. Some opportunities include volunteering with CASA, a local tutoring organization, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, or an organization like Girls on the Run.

Caveat: Please strictly monitor child safety and require background checks for adults, as well as observing ongoing safety practices to prevent abuse. Predators tend to be attracted to places with little oversight and easy access to children. Keep children safe!

  • Be a foster care parent!

Children who are in foster care need extra love and attention to make up for the years of neglect and abuse they have been through. It just takes one family to start the healing process. 

Caveat: However, please don’t sign up if you are not ready to adopt. Many foster care agencies now require families to be approved both for foster care and adoption to prevent the common play of families refusing to adopt once a child was ready for adoption (and therefore would no longer have a monthly stipend). Foster care is about the children, not about the money.

  • Support anti-trafficking organizations! People are often surprised to learn what parts of the United States are trafficking hubs! Libertas Home combats human trafficking in the Northern Virginia area, which has become an epicenter of trafficking. Participate in virtual fundraisers like March Forth to help fund prevention and awareness campaigns, and construct a safe house for trafficking survivors.  You can also visit the Polaris Project website to learn more about their national programs and hotline, and how you can help in your area.

Human trafficking is a complex problem, and there is no easy solution. Preventing recruitment into gangs can mean preventing future victims. When communities take the time to see and engage with the most vulnerable, everyone benefits.

Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.” –Garrison Keillor

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Clara Martin