(Disclaimer: Everything in this post in my opinion and not necessarily the official position of any organization)
Gangs & Human Trafficking
According to the 2011 United States Department of Justice National Gang Threat Assessment Report, organized street gangs such as the Bloods, Crips, MS-13, and Mexican drug cartels have found a new product to sell in their illegal criminal enterprises: Girls. One of the reasons that human trafficking has become of the fast growing and most profitable illegal industries in the world is that organized crime has become very active in the trade.
Gangs are venturing into human trafficking because, unlike drugs, girls can be used more than once and it is the victim who faces the greatest risk of arrest and prosecution. Essentially it is a safer and easier way for gangs to make a profit. Over the past several years authorities have arrested and prosecuted gang members for human trafficking and sexual exploitation rings in California, Florida, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Washington D.C. In February of 2012 The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched Project Nefarious with the goal of identifying, locating, arresting, prosecuting gang members involved in human trafficking organization. This project resulted in 637 gang members being arrested in 150 cities in the United States and Honduras.
How do these gangs recruit their victims? They use various methods falling into three general categories: force, fraud, and coercion. The methods vary depending on the situation. In many cases they use the traditional “grooming” process in which they earn the trust of their victims by wining and dining them before “seasoning” them by sharing them willingly or by force with other gang members before sending them out into the streets as a prostitute. They often use more experienced girls to recruit new girls at their high schools or in some cases even their middle schools. Gangs hold “skip parties” where young girls are invited to skip school and attend lavish parties at a private house. At these parties they are given free access to drugs and alcohol and befriended by older gang members. They are wooed with promises of better life and easy money and drawn into the web of the gang life before being forced to serve as prostitutes or face deprivation of food or physical violence. Other victims are flat out forced into prostitution through threats of violence against themselves or their families.
In other situations the gangs are not directly involved with the girls, but they integrate themselves into the traffickers business by offering to provide “security” for the traffickers. Security essentially means that in exchange for a cut of the profits gang members won’t interfere with the trafficker’s business or rob the trafficker transporting his profits.
Technology is being used extensively by gangs in human trafficking. They use social media like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter to both recruit new girls and advertise their services. Using internet sites like Craigslist.com and Backpage.com they are able to quickly advertise their victim’s services and then they can use disposable cell phones to arrange meeting places.
To learn more check out this podcast on gangs and human trafficking from the Global Center for Women & Justice.