The Traffickers - and how they work

"Carl Orlando Washington was arrested for trafficking a San Rafael girl under 18 years of age at an illegal gambling event in San Jose. The suspect met the girl at a bus stop in Richmond and showed romantic interest in her. He began cultivating her as a prostitute, buying her provocative clothing, furnishing her with drugs, and taking her to watch other prostitutes at work, said San Rafael police Sgt. Scott Eberle.

Washington then took her to the San Jose gambling event to sell sex to men there, telling her what services to offer and how much to charge. When she failed to earn enough money, the man had the girl beaten, Eberle said.

When the girl tried to cut herself off from the alleged pimp, he contacted her family by phone and text and threatened them if they did not give him money. He allegedly demanded $10,000, or $500 a day, to leave the family alone.

The girl’s mother called police and Washington was arrested.¹²"

Traffickers come from all walks of life and all socio-economic backgrounds. They can be men or women, or even teens or college students.  Traffickers include family members, friends, boyfriends, strangers, and acquaintances.  In some areas, trafficking rings are run by gangs and organized crime. 

How They “Recruit” Victims

Traffickers use a number of ways to “recruit” their victims.⁴


  • Pretend to romance victims, then force or manipulate them into prostitution (“Romeo pimps”: the most common type)
  • Kidnap and beat them into submission until they agree to have sex with strangers. These “Gorilla pimps” are the most violent and brutal traffickers
  • Lure victims with false promises of a job, such as modeling or dancing
  • Befriend victims, introducing them to drugs and/or alcohol, then forcing them into prostitution
  • Send another trafficking victim, usually a woman, to recruit others

Traffickers like to brag about their life. Here's a quote from a pimp's website that specifically teaches others how to be pimps:

“A true pimp is someone who gets a bitch to love her pimp, need her pimp, she can leave at any time if she wanted to but she won’t cause life without her pimp is the darkest place in the world for a bitch. She needs her pimp to feel complete. She needs her pimp to eat, to breathe and to live.

Everyone always thinks a pimp keeps a bitch in check using a backhand. There are times when you’re going to need to smack a bitch or choke a bitch if she gets out of line. Some bitches need to be physically dominated in order to submit to her pimp, and if so – so be it, you gotta do what you gotta do. But you can not be a pimp by simply getting angry every time and smacking your bitch. You have to get inside of her head. A bitch that will break her back making you money is a bitch that is in love with you. A bitch that does not want to disappoint you. A bitch that wants to make her daddy happy. If you just go around smackin' her up all of the time, you become the problem instead of the rock. Bitches need to fear disappointing you but more importantly they need to desire to make you happy.”


Romeo pimps are by far the most common.⁴ They offer love and support to gain their victim’s trust. Imagine how easy this must be when a child is neglected at home.   

A trafficker can make $150,000200,000 per child each year and can exploit an average of 46 girls per year.10   According to the 2014 Urban Institute study on the commercial sex economy in eight US cities, pimps in one city studied earned an average of $32,822 per week. ¹⁰ ¹¹

Sex Traffickers Control Their Victims by breaking them down psychologically and developing control over them through a combination of feigned affection, intense manipulation, addictive substances, cruel violence, and emotional abuse.  As a result, victims become trauma-bonded to their traffickers. They become robbed of free choice.

The NHTRC hotline and Polaris’s BeFree Textline stated that nearly 6,000 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2015; almost 1,000 cases were reported in California alone. And 24% more survivors reached out for help in 2015 compared to 2014.¹

Traffickers use various techniques to control their victims and keep them enslaved. Some traffickers hold their victims under lock and key.  However, the more frequent practice is to use less obvious techniques such as the following:²

  •  Isolation from the public by limiting contact with outsiders and making sure that any contact is monitored or superficial in nature
  •  Isolation from family members and friends
  • Confiscation or control of passports or other identification documents
  • Use or threat of violence toward victims or their family members
  • The threat of shaming victims by exposing humiliating circumstances to their families
  • Telling victims they will be imprisoned or deported for immigration violations if they contact authorities
  • Debt bondage through enormous financial obligations, or an undefined or increasing debt
  • Control of the victim’s money, e.g., holding their money for "safe-keeping"

Victims Fear Leaving

Victims may fear leaving for a number of reasons, including:⁴

  • Fear of physical violence and threats to self and/or children or family from the pimp
  • Shame
  • Feelings of isolation and low self esteem
  • Drug addiction
  • Psychological trauma as a result of chronic abuse and manipulation
  • Traffickers often convince victims that they are outside the law and can never seek protection from the police
  • Most victims have trauma related bonding to the trafficker known as Stockholm syndrome.

Stockholm syndrome is the psychological phenomenon where "strong emotional ties” develop between two people where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other. The victim expresses empathy and sympathy and positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.  

"I knew what he was capable of," she says. "He'd beat me and he'd rape me, he'd beat me and he'd rape me, and I just kept going back until I ended up being pregnant by him. And he beat me so bad that I ended up having a miscarriage."¹⁰

Victims are treated as property, with some pimps displaying ownership by branding victims with tattoos or symbols. One hospital discovered a chip embedded in a victim – like she was somebody's pet.⁴"

Traffickers often move their victims from town to town on a circuit.  This constant movement through a region helps them control their victims, while keeping “fresh inventory” available to “johns”.⁴

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