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Jeffrey Epstein, a powerfully connected American financier, is facing charges of sex trafficking in connection with his pattern of bringing underage girls as young as 14 years old into homes in various locations across the U.S. for the purpose of sex abuse, something he was first convicted of in 2008. The web of crimes of the 66-year old money manager – which allegedly entangled the likes of Bill Clinton, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Britain’s Prince Andrew, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, and modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, among others over the years – includes more than 50 victims, with evidence against him consisting of hundreds of lewd photographs of girls and young women.

Human trafficking – which, given its name often implies, “transporting” across borders, although one study recently found that more than 80% of sex trafficking incidents in the United States involved U.S. citizens – has been cited as the world’s fastest-growing crime, with an average of 20 percent of trafficking victims worldwide being children, and sex trafficking being the most common form of human trafficking on an international scale.

An industry that gives rise to nearly $100 billion in profits a year for traffickers, approximately 4.8 million people are forced into sexual exploitation each year with most victims of child trafficking being girls between the ages of 12 to 16, who are recruited by way of a number of tactics. These include “guerrilla pimping,” a tactic that involves aggression, threats and violence to engage and enslave the victim. As the Wall Street Journal reported early this month, Sarah Ransome, who sued Jeffrey Epstein, his alleged accomplice British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell and others in 2017, alleged that “Maxwell and Epstein used verbal threats to coerce her into sexual compliance.”

They alleged took this a step further, according to Ransome, who also “accused Maxwell and Epstein of helping to conceal the operation from law enforcement by requiring subordinates to sign confidentiality agreements, refrain from speaking to law enforcement and destroy evidence,” according to the WSJ.

Beyond threats and formal pacts to remain silent, many traffickers make use of “recruiters,” who identify and target vulnerable youth. While these recruiters might be other adults – such as Maxwell, who allegedly helped to build up a network of underage girls for Epstein and his high-powered friends under the guise of hiring them for legitimate role, such as massage therapist and art consultant jobs, victims themselves can eventually become involved in the recruitment.

For instance, “friends” may recruit peers into the commercial sex trafficking population through their social networks. In fact, some research has found almost half were recruited by “friends” into the commercial exploitation industry as opposed to adults “preying” on susceptible youth. Recruitment to the industry by friends is particularly dangerous, as youth are less suspecting of their peers compared with adults.

Still yet, in some instances, youth involved in sex trafficking will even be given financial incentives to introduce their friends to the exploitation population. Epstein allegedly used this tactic, paying his victims to recruit other girls.

Accusations against high-profile figures, such as Epstein, are effective at raising awareness of this significant human rights violation. However, regardless of the outcome of this case, one that is being watched heavily by the media and the public, alike, given its expansive scope, the young ages of Epstein’s alleged victims, and the widespread political ties at play, the ugly truth is this is just the tip of the iceberg, as child sex trafficking is a critical issue affecting more than one million children worldwide, many of whom are left to suffer in silence.

Larissa Christensen is a Lecturer in Criminology & Justice and Co-leader of the Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit (SVRPU), University of the Sunshine Coast; Nadine McKillop is a Lecturer in Criminology & Justice and Co-leader of the Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit (SVRPU), University of the Sunshine Coast; and Susan Rayment-McHugh is a Lecturer in Criminology and Justice & Co-Leader of the Sexual Violence Research and Prevention Unit, University of the Sunshine Coast. [Edits/condensing courtesy of TFL]