When I share my story with others, the fact that usually gets the most shock is that I was trafficked by a family member. For a large portion of my life, it was those who were supposed to take care of me, protect me, and love me that instead left me vulnerable and alone, hurt me, and perverted what the word "love" meant. Unfortunately, the shock people feel is not because this is uncommon. In fact, during Shelter in Place, Safe House Project partners reported that 51% of child trafficking victims were trafficked by family members, having risen from 40% prior. Both of these numbers are shocking, maddening, and outright unacceptable.
So what does the life of a child being trafficked by a family member look like? For me, it was not what people expect. While some children are held captive physically, I was held captive by a trauma bond with my trafficker. A trauma bond, formerly known as Stockholm Syndrome, is a bond that occurs between a victim and their abuser due to a repeated cycle of violence and won affection. The victim is conditioned to believe that misbehavior by the abuser is the victim's fault. That was true for me in every sense of the word.
Because of my trauma bond, my trafficker was able to send me out into the world knowing that I would never say a word. And he was right. I was an adult before I was ever able to articulate what he had done to me.
This allowed me to do many things that made me appear to be a normal child, however. While I was experiencing the horrors of child sex trafficking and commercial exploitation, I was also singing at my church. I was a Girl Scout. I went to school every day and excelled. I even went to camp a few summers out of the years I was being trafficked. I did school plays and choir. I was treasurer of the Chess Club and Secretary of the Drama Club in high school. I got accepted into the Honors program at the college of my choice. All while being trafficked.
Be careful not to discount the signs of child sex trafficking because the child appears well-rounded or they appear to have a happy, healthy family. Things are not always as they seem.
For more information on what to look for, take the one hour OnWatch training, written by survivors like me, to help community members like you spot, report, and prevent trafficking.