About this Series
This is the first in a series of posts from our partners on the Match Group Advisory Council. These posts focus on safety topics that are important to our partners, our company, and our users. We have asked Match Group Advisory Council Members to contribute their expert insights to our Trust and Safety Center to increase awareness among our members and amplify our collaborative work to improve safety both on our platforms, and in our greater community.
“I love you, baby. I just need you to have sex with a few guys so we can get enough money to buy a house together. If you really love me, you’ll do this for us both…” …said no one who loves you, ever.
Now at first read, this may seem pretty obvious, if you are in a healthy relationship, or if you know what a healthy relationship looks like, or feels like. But at Polaris, a leading anti-human trafficking organization, conversations like this are all too familiar. Polaris is leading a data-driven social justice movement to end sex and labor trafficking. As part of that work, for more than a dozen years we have operated the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. That experience has put us in contact with thousands of survivors of trafficking and we have learned, from survivors, that manipulating the concept of love is one of the most powerful weapons in a human trafficker’s arsenal.
This comes as a surprise to many who believe trafficking – particularly sex trafficking – generally begins with kidnapping or other forceful, violent means, but the reality is that most people who wind up in sex trafficking situations know and trust – and very often love – their traffickers. Trafficking by an individual – generally a pimp or an intimate partner – often begins with the trafficker and potential victim building a relationship online. Contact and ensuing conversations take numerous forms but generally follow patterns.
The pattern we know the most about is so called “Romeo” pimps – generally men who very purposefully form romantic relationships with victims and then push them into prostitution or other sexual commerce. Traffickers will appear at first like the perfect partner, or the date of your dreams. They’ll promise the world. Then they will ask you to do something that no one who loves you would ever ask – to perform a sexual act, for money.
Online recruitment may begin with commenting on potential victims’ photos and sending direct messages, carefully building the rapport and intimacy needed to entice victims into a false sense of trust. The next phase is often “boyfriending” – manipulations such as feigned romantic interests, extreme flattery, promises of gifts or other financial assistance, assurance that they, and they alone can care for the potential victim, or even perceived salvation from domestic violence or child sexual abuse. In these cases, the online relationship will generally culminate with the trafficker purchasing travel tickets for the potential victim in order to finally unite face-to-face.
In a slightly different and accelerated version of this recruitment model, geography is factored in before the online relationship begins. Traffickers can connect with potential victims using location-based apps. Victims use these apps for their intended purpose, to seek out a potential romantic partner. Traffickers, recognizing that legitimate desire, can step in and say all the right things, but with all the wrong intentions.
As part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month, we want to remind those who are seeking relationships online that human traffickers are out there too, looking for vulnerable people to manipulate and exploit. Since human trafficking can happen through manipulative and unhealthy relationships, it can also be prevented through awareness.
It’s important to educate yourself so you know how the crime actually manifests – to protect yourself against potential exploitative relationships and to help your friends and family who may talk about their own experiences with you. The best defense against a human trafficker who poses as a romantic partner is knowing your own intrinsic value. That’s not easy, but remember: “I want you to have sex, for money,” …said no one who loves you, ever.
- Be cautious about a match moving too quickly or trying to make you reliant on them
- Be wary of a romantic partner insisting that you keep your relationship a secret or trying to isolate you from friends and family
- If you have a tip about a human trafficking situation or you need human trafficking services or resources, contact the Polaris’s National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
How Match Group is Helping
- We have a clear policy prohibiting promoting or advocating for human trafficking on all of our apps
- We work with Polaris and others to better understand how to prevent trafficking
- We are supporting federal legislation, including the EARN IT Act, to help fight sex trafficking.
Polaris is leading a data-driven social justice movement to fight sex and labor trafficking at the massive scale of the problem – 25 million people worldwide deprived of the freedom to choose how they live and work. For more than a decade, Polaris has assisted thousands of victims and survivors through the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, helped ensure countless traffickers were held accountable and built the largest known U.S. data set on actual trafficking experiences. With the guidance of survivors, we use that data to improve the way trafficking is identified, how victims and survivors are assisted, and how communities, businesses and governments can prevent human trafficking by transforming the underlying inequities and oppressions that make it possible.