Sex Traffickers are Targeting College Students

What do bright college students have to worry about?

In the past 2 years, I have seen a sharp increase in the number of U.S. Citizen college students targeted by human trafficking. I also hear from victims that sex traffickers are lurking around high school and middle school campuses. After the many campus shootings and the other dangers parents warn their children about before sending them away from home for the first time it is unlikely that most parents are discussing the tactics of “romeo pimps” with the daughters who have achieved academic success.

I have worked with more and more families as the hopes and dreams for their daughters are crushed – the parents have been blindsided by an evil they may never have known existed.

The tactics used are that the recruiter will find a target, he will then create some sort of friendship or romantic connection.

During this early grooming period he will learn all he can about the victim and she will tell him EVERYTHING. Her hopes, dreams, fears disappointments, every disagreement with her friends, parents teachers, etc.

While she believes he is listening to her out of affection, he is listening for ammunition to carry out his plan.

He will begin to introduce her to his shadowy life and it will appear alluring and a bit mystical- especially to a naïve academic who has spent most of her time preparing for college.

He will learn what she thinks about sex, religion, her parents, grandparents, her embarrassing moments and her highest achievements.

This he will then use to distance and isolate her from her life and into his.

Understanding the Grooming Process

Traffickers use many tactics to keep the victim under control. They use a spectrum of crimes to surround the victim in a climate of fear and distortion. The traffickers also use the judicial system to groom the environment to protect themselves. Many traffickers purposely get the victims arrested so as to empower themselves and further cause the victim to be isolated and dependent. All too often the judicial system is a willing participant.

A common example is the labor contractor or pimp who uses the threat of law enforcement when their victims start complaining. The trafficker will call Immigration and Customs Enforcement and report the illegal immigrant who is then arrested and deported. Problem solved for the trafficker and money in the bank for the employer who does not want to be bothered by paying for labor. The pimp may actually want the victim to get arrested as then he will be her ‘savior’ as he bails her out of jail (with the money she earned). He will then use this to further make her feel responsible for “costing him money” both for the bail and for the time she was not producing. This also prepares her for later when they all get caught she will do the time for him and protect him as all costs. He has then groomed her and the environment around her to make sure he walks and she takes the full punishment.

In the book The Art of Seduction, author Robert Greene has analyzed seducers over the centuries. In his list of tactics of the seduction process he outlines many of the tactics used by traffickers on the victims.

A few examples are:

  • Choose the right victims– the right victims are the ones you can fill a void- a completely contented person is almost impossible to seduce.
  •  Create a false sense of security– begin at an indirect approach, an angle. The victims may be introduced to the trafficker by a friend or trusted family member.
  • Send Mixed Signals this will both fascinate and confuse. For traffickers this is a combination of being nice with abuse- of being attentive and tender with being aloof and cruel. This is the most powerful part of the coercion used on the victims.
  • Isolate the victim– Isolating them makes them weak and vulnerable to the trafficker’s influence. For the trafficked victims the isolation of a foreign country, language, culture even food is one of the traffickers best tools. For US citizen victims the traffickers will drive a wedge between family and friends of the victim. They will create discord that was not really there. This will have the victim off center and distrustful of the only people who could help her. Confused with no outside support they are easily led astray and controlled.
  •  Mix pleasure with pain. According to Greene, the greatest mistake in seduction is to be too nice. Inflicting some pain to make the victim feel guilty and insecure. Then a return to kindness will bring them to their knees. With victims of trafficking this cycle repeats over and over. In one interview a victim said he beat me with a wire stick (a pimp stick) “I was bruised and bleeding and I did deserve it because I had not made enough money for him. Then he gently brushed my hair from my face and wiped my tears. He really cared for me.”

For more known tactics visit:

The “Ripple Effect” of Trafficking

The consequences of human trafficking are exponential, not just for the victim but their parents, grandparents, children, siblings, teachers, friends.  I’ve seen best friends and roommates change schools, or quit school altogether due to the trauma of seeing their friend groomed and trafficked. Siblings often report not only being hurt by the absence of their sibling, but witnessing the devastation of their parents, and, of course, the caring parents are in a state of Hell on Earth.

Whole communities are affected yet, in the 15th year since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), parents are told by law enforcement and others:

  • “just move on”
  • he/she is an adult and wants to be there
  • stop trying to contact your child or you will be arrested
  • your child is a prostitute and should be prosecuted
  • why don’t you just kidnap them?
  • the purchase of illegal sex is between consenting parties

I’ve met parents who “rescued” their adult children by force and were prosecuted. In the end, the bad guys kept the victim and the family was further destroyed by time spent in jail.  This advise is distressing to the families as they feel pressure to take action. The constraints of the law which often does not provide justice to the traffickers, but, in contrast, will certainly take down a law-abiding citizen who breaks it.

It takes the community to demand that their law enforcement, media and elected officials treat human trafficking as a high priority with educated and skilled people working as a team to help the victims and their families. It’s when these needs are not met that parents call in my team, often as a last resort to save their child. We don’t wish to be the last resort, but to work side by side with the team and restore trafficked children to their families. My heart breaks when opportunities to free the victim are missed due to lack of training, experience, team work or other reasons.

I hope for a day when our team is no longer needed, a time when advocates and organizations are so well-trained about trafficking and its victims that traffickers become rare because it is too risky a crime.

However, we are not there yet.

Dottie Laster

Dottie Laster

Dottie Laster is affiliated with the non-profit Bernardo Kohler Center where she is accredited to practice immigration law. She created their Casita program and Save One Soul outreach.

As a weekly Co-Host on the nationally syndicated radio show, The Roth Show, Laster presents discussion and guests who speak out about a variety of controversial subjects surrounding the abolishment of human trafficking and corresponding crimes.

Dottie Laster is featured in the documentary on sex trafficking in Latin bars and cantinas, The Cantinera, and her direct rescue work is the subject of the MSNBC Documentary, Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue. She is the recipient of several human rights awards and has been featured in numerous publications including recent issues of Texas Monthly, Town Hall, and MORE Magazine.

Dottie Laster is the CEO of Laster Global Consulting which has consulted in several high-profile trafficking cases, and has been directly and indirectly responsible for the rescue and restoration of hundreds of trafficking victims. Her strong multi-disciplinary team has an established track record and provide project development, consultancy, and training resources in domestic and international trafficking.

To book trainings in your community and become involved in making your area safe for victims and their families, and hostile to traffickers, contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-0859 or email

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