How social media is helping the sex trafficking industry thrive



By: Tiffany Ditto

Social media apps like Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, and Meetup are helping the sex trafficking industry find potential victims and arrange sexual meet-ups, experts say.

According to an article by the ABA Journal, “Johns set up ‘dates’ from the privacy and comfort of their homes. So do the pimps and predators who lure venerable youths into the sex trade.

Predators use social media to find potential victims by searching through thousands of profiles for any clues as to who would be an ideal candidate. Pimps do this by looking for those who have trouble at home, who are lonely and seeking a friend, and looking at individuals who may need money for other things such as schooling. Once a pimp has locked on a victim, they groom the victim for months or even years.

When the victim does decide to meet their new online friend in person, oftentimes they are sold into the sex trafficking trade.

The Thomas Reuters Foundation told, that increasingly traffickers are using WhatsApp and Snapchat to lure in victims because the messages disappear over time.

Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received reports of 22,191 sex trafficking cases inside the United States. In 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 6 endangered runaways reporter to them were likely sex trafficking victims. Even more alarming, the International Labor Organization estimates that 4.5 million people are trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally, making the industry worth $150 billion worldwide.

Studies done by the Urban Institute indicate that in the United States the underground sex economy ranges from #39.9 million in Denver, Co. to $290 million in Atlanta, Ga.

Photo Credit: The Thorn Survivor Survey 

But pimps aren’t just using social media to find victims. They are also using it to sell victims.

On Jan. 10,, a website similar to craigslist shut down it’s adult services advertising section after pressure from the government. Members of congress found that the site knew of and promoted the selling, and sexual exploitation of children on its site. However, since shutting down the adult services section, pimps have simply moved their ads to the services section.

On Facebook, WhatsApp, and Meetup pimps often market their services as dates. The pose behind an account with photos of the girl they captured, and attempt to illicit potential buyers.

As technology advances, social media platforms will find a way to help combat this growing issue. But until then, the sex trafficking industry will continue to exploit this loophole.

Header image Photo credit:

Published by

UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism