AMU Health & Fitness Infectious Diseases Original

How the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Increased Human Trafficking Risks

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the lives of people around the world, human trafficking continues to be a threat. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are around 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally. In the United States, there have been cases of human trafficking in all 50 states.

Why Human Trafficking Occurs

Human trafficking typically occurs through the exploitation of a victim’s vulnerabilities. Some of those vulnerabilities include previous sexual abuse, a difficult home life, the need to run away from home and homelessness. Some victims may be individuals who have temporary visas or who reside in the United States illegally.

Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Risk Factors for Human Trafficking Have Increased

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the risk factors for human trafficking. For example, the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the loss of employment and the inability to pay rent for many people.

Already struggling families can become homeless. As a result, the children of those families are at a heightened risk of different forms of exploitation, such as sex trafficking or exploitation in different labor sectors.

Cases of Child Abuse Are Growing

There is a widespread consensus among child advocates that an increase in child maltreatment is occurring during the current pandemic, and there is an increase in hospital reports of child abuse injuries. Child abuse can easily lead to human trafficking victimization, because the child may seek protection through the false pretenses of a trafficker who seeks out vulnerabilities in children who have experienced abuse.

For instance, human traffickers scour the internet and social media for victim vulnerabilities. Children venting online that they are not getting along with their parents can be enough for the trafficker to move in and start grooming those children for human trafficking.

Grooming involves the trafficker making false promises to care for the child and offering to buy elaborate gifts. The trafficker says that he or she will provide a great life for potential victims if they will run away from home to be with the trafficker.

Eventually, the trafficker gains the victim’s trust. But the true intentions of the trafficker are revealed once the victim leaves home to be with that criminal, because the child is then forced into the commercial sex trade or other forms of exploitation. Gangs are also targeting youth for exploitation in human trafficking.

Detecting Human Trafficking Cases Has Become More Difficult Due to the Pandemic

One of the challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic and human trafficking is that people who would normally report suspicious activity may not see the children on a regular basis due to the pandemic. Those people include teachers, pediatricians, social workers, and others within the community.

Another increased risk associated with the pandemic is that school closures or remote learning is resulting in children and teenagers spending more time online, which can increase their exposure to human trafficking criminals. Social media apps such as TikTok may be especially dangerous for children who are spending more time online due to these apps’ lax privacy settings.

In a study by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, 40,000 school-aged children were surveyed. Researchers discovered that 25% of those children had livestreamed with a stranger. While livestreaming, one in 20 children were asked in the comments of a posted video to take their clothes off. With an increase of computer use due to the pandemic, the dangers of unsupervised online contact with strangers are clear and evident.

Restrictions and closures are making it more difficult to identify human trafficking cases and provide services to victims and survivors of human trafficking. It is important that parents become aware of the dangers of social media and that they educate children of the dangers of online predators.

Community leaders also have a vital role in educating the public about the indicators of human trafficking and to encouraging citizens to report suspicious behavior that may be associated with human trafficking. Medical professionals should remain proactive in monitoring and reporting suspected child abuse and should question patients who display vulnerabilities or indicators of human trafficking.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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