Teen Dating Violence Can Lead to Human Trafficking, but Healthy Relationships Can Prevent Both

April 12, 2023

In her Voices of Freedom conversation, Evelyn Chumbow explains what was most helpful when leaving her trafficking situation: “having someone there that I could trust, that I can be open with—that gave me a reason not to be afraid, that everything was going to be okay.” Evelyn is describing a relationship grounded in safety, honesty, and mutual connection. For Evelyn, this was with her lawyer; for others who have experienced human trafficking, it may be friends and family, teachers, caregivers, social workers, or healthcare providers.

As Evelyn’s story shows, safe, healthy relationships can help people leave and recover from their trafficking experience. According to 2021 data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, friends and family members were the top reported access points for help among people experiencing human trafficking. However, these same close connections—family, caregivers, and intimate partners—often recruit people into trafficking situations. Of the 16,554 people the Hotline identified as having potentially experienced human trafficking with a known recruiter type (4,010), most reported they were recruited by someone they knew, with 33% reporting their recruiter as a family member or caregiver and 28% reporting their recruiter as an intimate partner.

This data illustrates how human trafficking can be highly personal, with traffickers often exploiting those close to them. Abusers and traffickers take advantage of people who want love, connection, or support, gaining their trust and then maintaining control through physical or emotional manipulation, threatening to withhold crucial resources like shelter, food, and financial assistance. In this way, human trafficking is like other forms of interpersonal violence, which, at their core, are an abuse of trust, respect, and safety. With February being National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM), now is an important time to discuss how promoting healthy relationships early in life can prevent and disrupt cycles of abuse.

Read the full article by Katerine Chon on The Administration for Children and Families.