Most traffickers do not look, act, or speak in ways that would identify them as traffickers. Trench coats and masks are rarely worn, and they are hard to spot because they blend in. They are not in disguise because they look just like you and me.

A study has found that 9% of perpetrators are strangers to the victim. This means that it could easily be a friend, family member, teacher, etc. Connections can happen through work, school, or conversations that start online. To get this to happen, the perpetrators groom their victims.

Sexual grooming, or just “grooming”, is a preparatory process in which a predator gradually gains a person’s trust with the intent to exploit them. The victim is usually a child, teen, or vulnerable adult. The purpose of grooming is to manipulate the person into becoming a co-operating participant in their own abuse or exploitation, which reduces the likelihood of a disclosure and increases the likelihood that the victim will become attached and repeatedly return to the perpetrator.

Grooming can be stopped, but because traffickers choose their victims based on some level of vulnerability which can be overtly identified, the victims themselves are less likely to be the ones to notice the grooming behaviour or be willing to disconnect from the person grooming them. The groomer works hard to build trust with their victim while simultaneously discrediting the trustworthiness of those closest to the victim.

Thankfully, we are equipped with something that is often referred to as a “gut feeling” or the “uh oh feeling.” It’s difficult to put into words, but it’s a visceral reaction to an individual or a situation. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but it’s there and it doesn’t go away easily. If you ignore it long enough your blind trust or denial can override the body’s built-in alarm system, but you’ll always look back and remember that “gut feeling.” It’s there for a reason. Listen to it. Respond appropriately. Don’t feel compelled to justify it to anyone.

If you have a moment that makes your gut feel uneasy, it’s important to be an active bystander and to call either 911 or the Canadian National Human Trafficking at 1-833-900-1010.