The more self aware we are of our personal vulnerabilities to sex trafficking, the more resilient we will be to manipulation from a predator.
There are no stereotypes in sex trafficking. It does not care a victim’s gender, race, or social class, it will target and exploit anyone and everyone it can. The reason there is not one specific type of person primarily victimized by sex trafficking is because everyone has vulnerabilities that can be manipulated. The better we understand our personal vulnerabilities, the more resilient we will be to someone trying to take advantage of them.
But what is a vulnerability?
We define a vulnerability as a characteristic about a person that can be manipulated by a predator for the predator’s gain and the person’s detriment. These characteristics can be both positive and negative attributes or experiences of the potential victim. Vulnerabilities do not make anyone a weak or strong person, good or bad person. They simply mean that we have a unique story that has shaped us into who we are today. The better we understand our story, the easier it will be to recognize if someone is trying to take advantage of parts of it.
The reason pimps are easily able to manipulate someone’s vulnerabilities is because they are constantly looking for what is missing in a person’s life, and then figuring out how to become the answer to that need. This is easy to understand when we grasp Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs & How Pimps Use It
This hierarchy is based off a theory that humans have a range of needs, everything from basic food and shelter for survival all the way to the need for self-actualization. Maslow argued that humans cannot achieve the higher levels until the previous is fulfilled.
This is what it looks like:
Obviously we have the desire for all these needs, but we will naturally seek out fulfillment for our basic needs first. Without being in a stable and safe environment, it is difficult to think about what it is going to take to get that 4.0 GPA to make it into that prestigious university. In the same way, it is difficult to establish self-esteem when we feel like we don’t fit in at school or that our parents don’t care to understand what we are going through.
Pimps intentionally look for which level a potential victim is missing. What is the need?
Food, shelter, and clothes?
Safety from an abusive situation?
Sense of belonging and emotional connection?
Confidence and independence?
Or an unfulfilled dream for the future?
Once they identify the need, pimps will fulfill that need however they can. Here is how this might look:
As the pimp is fulfilling the needs of his victim he is also isolating him/her from anyone or anything else that could fulfill those needs as well. Whether the pimp prevents his victim from accessing resources for homeless youth, or manipulates the victim’s feelings so that it seems like he is the only one who accepts/loves the victim for who he/she really is, the victim becomes dependent on the pimp to fill that need.
When dependency is finally established the pimp is able to easily exploit his new victim.
What is your need?
Which levels of need do you feel are already fulfilled and which levels are you still looking for fulfillment?
Those who are seeking self-actualization are no better or less vulnerable to manipulation than the person who still needs their basic biological needs fulfilled. Pimps can take advantage of a person no matter how high or low their need.
These needs do not indicate how good/bad or strong/weak of a person we are, they simply give us insight into our stories: where our story is currently and possible next steps to write the story we have always dreamed of.
Harmful Ways to Respond to Our Need
Some needs give us motivation and drive: fierce dedication to sports or school so that we can get into that dream