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Did You Know There Are Different “Types” Of Human Traffickers Who Exploit Victims?

Heidi Chance, a 25-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, dedicated her career to combatting sex trafficking, notably serving 13 years in the H.E.A.T (Human Exploitation and Trafficking) Unit.

Executive Contributor Heidi Chance

Human Trafficking, specifically the trafficking of individuals for commercial sexual exploitation is a pervasive and complex crime that manifests in various forms, ranging from individual exploitation to sophisticated operations orchestrated by organized crime groups. In this article, we will delve into the different types of sex trafficking and examine how they differ in terms of the perpetrators, victims, and methods employed.

Frightened woman hiding b.ehind a closet door

Let’s talk about what I call “Individual Exploiters.”

At the individual level, trafficking often involves a single perpetrator exploiting one or a few victims for profit. These perpetrators may be acquaintances, family members, or individuals who gain the trust of their victims before subjecting them to exploitation. In many cases, victims of individual exploitation are vulnerable individuals who are lured by false promises of money, being taken care of, or a better life, only to find themselves trapped in a cycle of abuse and coercion.

The perpetrators of individual exploitation are typically individuals who have direct contact with their victims and may use emotional manipulation, deception, or physical force to control them. These perpetrators may not necessarily be part of a larger criminal network and may operate independently or in small groups. However, law enforcement has noted that gangs have taken on the use of this criminal behavior increasingly in inner cities in the United States.

Individuals who find themselves being trafficked by individual exploiter-type perpetrators, often find themselves completely isolated from friends or family and are dependent on the perpetrator and have a relationship with them that is sometimes romantically based. Familial trafficking is often times confusing as well, due to the understanding that the victim “knows the perpetrator”. But in simple terms, the trafficker is in a relationship with the victim or is a family member.

Victims of individual exploitation are often vulnerable individuals who are targeted based on their socioeconomic status, age, or other factors that make them susceptible to manipulation and coercion. These victims may lack access to resources, support networks, or legal protections, which can further exacerbate their vulnerability.

Individual exploitation traffickers may rely on relatively simple methods of operation, such as recruiting victims through personal relationships, online platforms, or informal networks. Parents and guardians should pay close attention to what their children are doing online and who they are talking to. 

“The internet has opened up the opportunity for individual exploiters to come inside homes through screens without parents and guardians even knowing they are there!” Detective Heidi


For more information download the worksheet that is a guide to having difficult conversations with today's youth living in the digital age here.

These traffickers may also use coercion tactics such as threats of violence, manipulation, or debt bondage to control their victims.


These “individual exploiter” perpetrators work alone and travel from city to city, state to state keeping their victims isolated and alone. They are very transient. This is all a part of the control. The main reasons for this…

“Number 1 so they don’t get caught by the police and number 2 so that they can keep their victims from getting to know someone at the location they are staying at because that normal person might tell the victim to leave their trafficker… and they do not want that!”

Individual Exploiters may use a “Bottom” person who works for the trafficker as well but has more trust and responsibilities. The Bottom is the person that is most loyal to the trafficker, and may have been with the trafficker the longest or may share a child in common with the trafficker. The Bottom is trusted with duties such as training and recruiting. They may put rental vehicles or hotels in their name so that the true identity of the trafficker remains hidden. They may carry out punishments on the other victims for the trafficker and may also be entrusted with collecting money.


Organized crime groups differ in many ways

In contrast, organized crime groups engage in trafficking on a larger scale, with sophisticated networks spanning multiple countries and regions. These groups often operate with the primary goal of maximizing profit, and they employ systematic methods to exploit their victims. Organized crime trafficking operations may involve multiple layers of hierarchy, including recruiters, transporters, enforcers, and facilitators who coordinate various aspects of the trafficking process.


Victims of organized crime trafficking are often subjected to extreme levels of coercion, violence, and exploitation, and may be trafficked for purposes such as forced labor, sexual exploitation, organ harvesting, or even child soldiering.


The perpetrators of organized crime trafficking are members of highly structured criminal organizations that specialize in trafficking and other illicit activities. These perpetrators are often well-organized, well-funded, and well-connected, allowing them to exploit victims on a large scale and evade law enforcement detection.


Furthermore, these victims may not ever tell law enforcement about their exploitation for fear that a relative or family member may be harmed. It is not like what you may see on TV where the police can wave a magic wand and get a victim's family members brought out of the country they are in and safe to the United States. This reality keeps victims in the situations they are in until they can escape on their own terms or when law enforcement intervenes.

Victims of organized crime trafficking may also exhibit vulnerabilities, but they are often targeted based on their perceived value to the traffickers, such as their physical attributes, skills, or connections. These victims may be subjected to more sophisticated recruitment tactics, including false promises, fraudulent job offers, or even abduction.

Organized crime trafficking groups employ complex and highly coordinated methods of operation, including recruitment, transportation, exploitation, and distribution. These groups may use a variety of tactics to evade law enforcement detection, such as operating in multiple jurisdictions, using encrypted communication channels, and laundering money through legitimate businesses.

In conclusion, Human Trafficking encompasses a wide range of activities, from individual exploiters to organized crime operations. While both forms of trafficking share the common goal of exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit, they differ significantly in terms of the perpetrators, victims, and methods employed. By understanding these differences, we can better identify and combat Human Trafficking in all its forms, and work towards protecting the rights and dignity of trafficking victims worldwide. 


Heidi Chance, a 25-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department, dedicated her career to combatting sex trafficking, notably serving 13 years in the H.E.A.T (Human Exploitation and Trafficking) Unit. As an expert in forensic child interviews, abuse identification, online child protection, and undercover operations, she's a sought-after speaker, addressing law enforcement and many conferences. Heidi is featured in the PBS documentary "Sex Trafficking in America" and now uses her platform at to raise public awareness and provide training and consulting services to law enforcement, contributing to the fight against sex trafficking.



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