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Weekly Doses of Pop-up Psych

We all make cringey mistakes and deserve to move on, rather than feel confused or regretful after an icky social situation. Each week, I will dissect a murky social, life cycle, or pop culture topic to help you understand, learn, and move on. As a former academic, I am a super-picky consumer of research (and you should be too) as well as the content I create and share, so those new solutions, data and/or additional resources have certainly met my approval.

Spotting Trafficking: Signs and Actions for Bystanders to Identify and Respond

Trafficking. It’s something we hear about so much, but what does it really mean? It’s humans, typically (70%) young girls and women who are treated like sex slaves and property to make other people money.  In 2023, there were 4.5 million victims of sexual exploitation. They have no money, no privacy, no voice, and are forced to change their names so they can’t be found by their families. We have been hearing a lot about trafficking in the world of pop culture between Sean “Diddy” Combs, who is facing major trafficking accusations and of course, there was the infamous Jeffrey Epstein case. As, bystanders, what can we do to help?

human trafficking

I was a jail counselor and worked with my share of female prostitutes, who mostly “tricked” to support a drug addiction. Knowing what I know now, I wonder how much they really participated versus were forced?  I learned through this blog journey these girls are forced to lie, since leaving the situation might jeopardize their families’ safety or at least that’s what they are told.


I am very grateful for the help with this blog (and next week’s when we focus on preventing your own child from getting sucked into that world) through Sharrell, who is an incredibly strong, resilient, and kind woman. She and I met through her memoir journey. I was so struck by her stories that she graciously agreed to share her voice to offer tips for prevention. Sharrell’s direct quotes are italicized.


I was the one that got away and that’s why I can tell my story. Once, I went to this big party dressed like a slut. If you don’t say anything, they won’t say anything. These people looked at me and asked me if I wanted to stay for a drink.


These party girls were either kidnapped and drugged or so sucked in by charm and a false sense of safety that they didn’t know what they were really getting themselves into. They trusted the people who lured them in until they were in a place where they had no phone (it’s taken away), no way to communicate, or given a false name.  


Most girls out there don’t want to be out there but put on a show like they do. If you don’t watch, they will put you on a drug. They would get hooked and then give you a reason to go to work. He got what you want and need and that you have the money.  Like shooting up. Once they are drugged out, they throw them out like trash.


See Something, Say Something


They are not in a place where they can ask for help. They are nervous inside but can’t ask for help.  It’s better if they are approached. Any clue could help these young girls either be reunited with their families or find a way to make a better life for themselves.


Spot trafficking in small motels or Airbnb homes.


Mom and pop hotels, where it is quiet.  Small, hole in the wall motels. They won’t put you in a big hotel. They don’t have a phone in these rooms.  If you see a guy who checks in, but he leaves, and another guy comes and brings the bags.  You start seeing young girls one by one come in acting like they are on vacation in motels.  Housekeeping doesn’t come, rather they go to the front desk to get towels.


He’ll tell the older girl to get the room so they don’t see them.  They move around to hotels.  Why are we moving rooms again? Because they are watching.  People at the front desk are the only ones who see these girls at nighttime.  One girl getting everybody something to eat.  Those are prostitutes and they are not coming out of the room. They only come out to work.  We started getting ready for work at four to leave by five or six when it got dark. You see them together when they must go out there on the runway. 


The pimp goes home instead of staying in room, so he goes back to his hometown, and they wire him the money. A girl said she was ready to go home.  She said she was hungry and needed money wired so she could get something to eat.  She gives the guy all the money.  She can’t go home because the man next door is watching over her for the pimp in his hometown.  The guy goes everywhere.  If you open your room door, the guy is there watching you.  The hotel people know but can’t say anything. They pay those people to shut up, because they know since we only come out at night. They put you in your own rooms so you can’t communicate. The only time you talk is comparing your money to give to "Daddy".


Spot trafficking by noticing their driving activity.


They drive a raggedy car, the ‘ho wagon’.  Another girl will come up and see what’s up to work with this guy. They will always keep a male with them, always. They are always being watched by the chauffeur or brother.  You cannot run, somebody is coming behind you.


Look for any type of car you know he shouldn’t be in. Get a photo of a girl and turn it in for human trafficking.


Spot trafficking when girls call the older guys, “Daddy”.


People are not noticing, but they call the guys "Daddy".  You give all your belongings to "Daddy", who runs your whole show.  He asks you to jump and you ask him how high. They call you "Little Mama". ‘Is there something I can do for you?’  He is listening and taking this all in to put you out on the street.

She doesn’t fit "Daddy’s" photo. He’ll say she’s adopted, but why is she here standing here with all that makeup and fishnets looking like that?  That’s how people try to betray you.  They try to make it look more official.


Spot trafficking by noticing what young girls are buying at the mall.


The girls are not shopping at regular places.  They will be at the mall wearing regular clothes, but the items they are buying are see-through stuff that’s going straight to the street.


Spot trafficking online.


Lots of internet stuff is going on. There are sites for the millionaire men with money. They go to St. Louis and go to a hotel, they station people in the big rooms, and they a camera set up in the room.  So, when they’re talking to the guy, they give a different number, so the police don’t catch them. 

Pimps are putting their girls in rooms and working them off the internet and the guy goes to the hotel.  They must spend money to post themselves and they sell their body that way. There’s a guy in Texas who wants girls to meet him in Texas. She thinks ‘I’m one of his babies’, but she doesn’t realize she is collecting money and selling her body.

Stop trafficking by trying to talk to the young girls who look like they fit the description.

I would ask, ‘where are you going?’  She’ll say she’s on her way to work. Tell her, ‘Take my number, I have a job and can give you an interview.’  You can meet her at a street and take her straight to the police.


It’s like you have been in prison for years and now you are free. You don’t know how to function in the real world.


Thank you, Sharrell for sharing your voice and wisdom with me.  The goal is for everyone to become a little more aware and to do something when you spot the signs.  Below are resources to learn more and to report human trafficking.


National Human Trafficking Hotline


Blue Campaign by the Division of Human Services


Human Trafficking Resources by US Department of Justice


When have you spotted trafficking?

Hi, Beautiful Readers and thank you for reading this! I'm Dr. Joanne Broder, Media Psychologist, Author, and Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Please consider me to help you write your memoir, blogs, speeches, e-books, as well as coach you on your dissertation or thesis.  Click here so we can connect!

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