Safety Against Forced Exploitation

“Predictive attitudes and preventive cultures against violence”, that is the slogan at the OveHum InterNational, and this means we need to understand the characteristics of potential victims in all scenarios we deal with. We’ve posted about school violence, about the risks on the Internet, about profiles to identify behavioral issues, etc. Now we’ welcome our collaborator  Gwen Garfall from S.A.F.E. Safety Against Forced Exploitation to look at a topic that has reached epidemic levels


There are many sources that have published how to be able to recognize and identify a victim of human trafficking, but what are the characteristics of a potential victim? Is there a victim profile and is it as illusive as the profile of a ‘john’? I recognized, as the director of a S.A.F.E. House for minor-aged victims of human trafficking, that the road to restoration for the victims was going to be a long and arduous one. In order to rescue and retain victims into our residential program, we continuously collaborated with law-enforcement, guardians, foster-care parents, case-workers, teachers, partner agencies, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs). When, as a staff, we pondered the susceptibility of this stealth crime affecting teen girls in the United States, a victim profile began to emerge. I have been involved in the outreach efforts in the Asia and train and educate on minor-aged exploitation in Latin America, but my experience and expertise is rooted in the “inside us” problem in the United States.

After a couple of years serving as the program director, as well as the resident mental health counselor, a victim profile began to emerge (partner agencies confirmed the findings). I recorded the data from each new resident and networked with partner agencies as patterns and circumstances were repeated. Considering Benjamin Franklin’s often quoted adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” I decided that in order to tackle the problem, I must address a missing piece to the multifaceted problem of minor-aged sexual exploitation. The missing piece is prevention.

I developed a prevention program for the target age population of the crime for females in the United States.

Many adults are aware of this heinous crime due to the public attention it receives through news reports and online articles. These reports and articles promote awareness that ignites interest groups, compassion measures, and crime-fighting initiatives in the United States, but teens remained relatively unaware. Young girls are ignorant (for the most part) of the strategic seduction of a pimp, human trafficker, or recruiter. Girls know what abduction looks like, but do they know what seduction looks like? Seduction is defined as being lured or led astray. We also found the victims and teen peers to be uninformed as to the circumstances that could put them at risk of being trafficked.

Two years after this discovery, a team of S.A.F.E. volunteers presented the first prevention curriculum, RUATarget©, in middle schools to the target age of 11 to 15 in Florida on a weekly basis. Teachers, principals, school counselors, and students became informed in the presentations. The students confirmed our victim profile through a confidential survey that was taken at the prevention presentation. Students used the simple questionnaire to promote self-identification as victims as well.

These are the factors we determined put minor-aged girls at risk of being a target for sexual exploitation in the United States:

  • 11 to 15 years old
  • Member of a single-parent home
  • History of sexual abuse or assault
  • Poverty or low income household
  • Uninvolved parent or guardian
  • History of being in the foster-care system
  • Truancy record
  • Shy or compliant personality; insecure
  • No restrictions or supervision on social media
  • Unstable home life

After attending a prevention presentation, students became aware of the factors, as well as their personal circumstances that could potentially put them at risk. Girls could become their own best advocates for reaching their full potential and recognize the lures to a detoured life as well as warn their peers. A prevention program to the target-age population promotes awareness and safety. Every investigator establishes a profile to understand and thwart or eliminate a specific criminal activity. Though many of the factors listed in this article are indeed at-risk factors which are prevalent in any society, I believe it would be beneficial for every country to discover the victim profile unique to their region and culture.

The victim profile we developed has helped schools and teachers to recognize that truancy from a minor age female may be a red flag of sexual exploitation. Though not all students that are truant are victims, our data suggests that all victims are truant. This single characteristic enabled school counselors to identify and reach out to victims trapped in sexual slavery yet still enrolled in school. The victim profile helped to keep the foster care case workers on alert to the vulnerability of teen girls in their care. The profile has brought a heightened awareness to nurses and medical clinic employees. The victim profile added a depth of understanding and a missing piece for Law Enforcement in combatting minor age commercial sexual exploitation in the United States.

To date, we have provided the prevention curriculum of RUATarget© to forty- two states and five countries. If you would like a complimentary copy for education or collaboration with an anti-human trafficking agency or organization, contact me on Linkedin.

Author: Gwen Garfall, Director


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