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The Faces of Modern Slavery in Sex Trafficking


Modeling Recruiter or Sex Trafficking Predator?

By Dean Bravo and

Every young girl loves positive reinforcement and hearing how they are beautiful and talented.


These same young girls often have hopes and dreams of being recognized. Becoming a dancer or a model can make these dreams a reality and give a young girl a thrilling chance of fame and fortune. 

Social media has opened doors to females giving them chances of opportunities of becoming noticed. However, social media has also opened the door for predators to find their victims.


Through social media, predators can access young girls at their fingertips that they can lure by manipulation and deceit. This is just one of the many ways females can be trapped into the sex trafficking system. 

the-faces-of-modern-slavery-in-sex-trafficking 2

What is Sex Trafficking?

The National Human Trafficking Hotline created by Polaris, a non-profit organization, defines sex trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

Minors under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex are considered to be victims of human trafficking, regardless of the use of force, fraud, or coercion.

This type of trafficking happens in our backyards-cities, suburbs, and rural areas. In the US, approximately 4.8 people are sexually exploited every year, however, that number is underreported since victims are fearful to report.

Of those 4.8 million, 72% are females. Once sold, it is difficult to escape slavery because threats, violence, and drug addiction are used to keep their victims.

Predators Look for People Who:

  • Need help;
  • Have a lack of support (emotional and financial);
  • Are insecure;
  • Have a traumatizing home life;
  • Possess poor emotional relationships; and
  • Feel unloved and vulnerable.

Subtle Methods Used To Lure Victims

Dr. Mary David, a UN Advisor and Sexual Exploitation Advocate, describes the luring process in a few steps.

“Young people will be approached by predators (either male or female) in-person at malls or coffee shops or online on social media posts. They are told they are beautiful and talented.

The response to the attention dictates the next steps. If they show insecurity or lack of self-confidence by the attention, the next step is taken.

The next step is false job opportunities of modeling or dancing. This will lure them to other locations. Acting like a parental figure is the next step.

The predator may promise that they will take care of them or pose as a boyfriend. This creates a bond of loyalty to the predator by filing an emotional gap.

Then the boyfriend will ask for a favor (just one time) to begin the exploitation”. 

Common Strategies Predators Use:

  • False Promises- A modeling or dancing advertisement in a publication or social media post that will recruit young females for a false photoshoot or audition.
  • Grooming- Establishing a friendship or relationship or acting like a parental figure. Trust is gained and false promises are made. 
  • Debt Bondage- A control method used to keep people trapped in a trafficking situation long term. People are forced to work to repay a real or perceived debt. Often the debt grows at a rate that is unable to be met and no hope of being free.

Advice to Models

Nonprofit agencies such as Operation Underground and Stop the Traffik offer advice to females trying to find legitimate model agencies since many predators use fake agencies to lure young girls.

  • Research Agencies;
  • Check references for the modeling scout;
  • Check references for working models and their parents from the agency;
  • Never to be forced to wear something inappropriate or shoot explicit material;
  • Check agency travel rules. Parents should be always be allowed to travel no matter what age of the model; and
  • Never pay for modeling schools. Modeling schools can be used as fake set-ups to recruit young girls.

Signs of Sexual Exploitation

Poverty is the highest risk factor for sexual exploitation. Poverty fuels the desire for a better life and modeling looks like the opportunity to get out of financial desperation. Also, females under the age of 20 are most at risk.

There are multiple health concerns when people are coerced into sex trafficking. Sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies are common.

Signs of physical abuse and mental abuse are experienced. Depression and anxiety along with shame and guilt are felt by victims of sexual exploitation.

Real Stories

  1. Tonya, a young runaway from Dallas, spent night after night in different hotel rooms, with different men. She was held against her will and made to feel like she had no other option at the time, all by the man she thought she loved. Tonya felt she couldn’t escape. She thought the emotional and physical abuse she endured was her own doing. Tonya was 13 when she met Eddie, a man in his twenties at the apartment she was living in with her mother in the Dallas area. They became friends. Things began to change one night when Tonya ran into Eddie at a bar. Tanya, still only 13,  was very young. The two reconnected, the flirting picked up where it left off and Tonya went home with Eddie that night.

    Tonya was a runaway at the time because she had been fighting verbally with her mother, so she eventually moved in with Eddie and the two began a relationship. He approached Tonya and told her in many words to have sex with a guy he knew for money, she ended up giving in. Tonya would go out with Eddie while he advertised her to potential suitors. She felt she could handle the physical toll the trafficking took on her body. It turned out that the hardest part to deal with was the emotional and psychological effects, constant nightmares, and fear of the dark and going outdoors.

    Help came for Tonya in the form of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent Keith Owens. The Grand Prairie, Texas police department received a tip about Eddie’s crimes and passed the case on to HSI Dallas. Owens and his team took over, moved in, and arrested Eddie.  The abuse had lasted for three months but was now over.

  2. A story about a girl named Jane. She lived in New Jersey. Jane found out that model agents hang out in shopping malls and they purposely scout parks where teenaged girls tend to lurk. She very much wanted to be a model. In many cases, agents prefer to approach girls when the parents are nowhere to be seen. So do traffickers. Jane was sixteen years old when she took classes at a local modeling school.

    She wanted to go to college in NYC, and modeling seemed like a reasonable way to make some extra cash to pay for it. Her teacher empowered her and taught her plenty about public speaking and creativity. Then she found out about the actual modeling industry. When people think of modeling, they generally associate it with anorexia, bulimia, and maybe the casting couch. And sure, those things are huge problems. But the casting couch is not the same thing as sex trafficking is.

    Sex trafficking in the modeling industry is slavery. Jane saw girls like herself as young as twelve shipped internationally to modeling jobs without parents and without oversight. Her agent imprisoned her in the back of an apartment. Any money she earned from modeling gigs went straight to her agent. She never left the apartment unescorted. She was at his whim for almost a year. She noticed that the agents like him were especially charming.

    Model agents and traffickers both approach with flashy grins. They promise to take care of you. They promise money and opportunity. They ask if you think you can handle the business.  And at sixteen, of course, she said yes.

    She never imagined that she would be seeing the absolutely perfect setting for horrific sex trafficking to occur. Jane escaped through an unlocked back door and called the police. Her agent subsequently disappeared and is believed to have left the country. An ongoing investigation is still pending.

Blog Collaboration by Dean Bravo and

Do you need help? The Polaris project operates the US National Trafficking Hotline.

The number to call is 888-373-7888 or text BeFree to 233733

Thorn Project founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore


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