When we talk about issues affecting women, like domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, we often list them as separate issues. In reality, people who experience trafficking are often victimized in other ways as well. In particular, teen dating violence is a doorway to human trafficking.
Teen dating violence is the name that has been given to intimate partner violence which takes place between young people who aren’t married or living together. Just like in domestic violence, teen dating violence involves one partner using coercive control to make the other partner do what they want. Abusive relationships usually start off great — the abuser tells his victim how beautiful she is and how much he loves her. He showers her with gifts and attention. To a young person, this love and attention can be intoxicating. Only once there is a strong bond does the abuse start — whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or other forms of abuse.
An abusive relationship between teens turns into trafficking when labor exploitation comes into play. Usually for teens, this means the abuser forces the victim into commercial sex. Since every child under 18 in the commercial sex industry in the U.S. is a trafficking victim, a boyfriend who pushes his teen girlfriend into prostitution becomes a trafficker, and she a victim. But while the definition of the crime has changed, the dynamics have not. A trafficker uses coercive control to keep his victims enslaved in the same way an abuser uses coercive control to keep his partner from leaving.
A victim of human trafficking and teen dating violence who has been forced into the commercial sex industry may also experience sexual assault, rape, battery, torture, and a myriad of other abuses. However, it’s important to recognize that all of these issues, while seemingly separate, take place within a framework of coercive control. All of the abuses a teen trafficking victim/teen dating violence victim experiences are a direct result of the coercion from her partner/pimp.
Photo credit: Paul H Photography