Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Abraham S. Fischler College of Education

Advisor

Jennifer Allen

Committee Member

Abigail Tucker

Committee Member

Alexis Carpinteri

Abstract

Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, and receipt of people. Humans are one of the only global commodities that can be sold and used repeatedly (Jones et al., 2007), helping to make trafficking a multi-billion-dollar industry worldwide. There are several types of trafficking, including forced labor, debt bondage, organ harvesting, and sexual exploitation. Often, trafficking includes threats, the use of force, coercion, abduction, and fraud for exploitation, labor, harvested organs, or sex. Human trafficking occurs domestically and across international borders, with over 45 million victims globally (Bonilla & Mo, 2019). Every state in the United States is affected by human trafficking. Victims can be any age, gender, race, or nationality, and are often misled and coerced into servitude and modern-day slavery. They are mentally and physically manipulated and left with the belief they have no chance of escape. Those with low income, low education levels, and high debt are more likely to become targets of traffickers (Mo, 2019; Colby, 2011). Young people are also more likely to become trafficking victims, as they tend to be more gullible and naïve (Lewis & Llewellyn, 2019).

The lack of awareness of human trafficking, coupled with the increase in technology and social media has facilitated the increase of exploited victims. There are currently over 4.66 billion people who use the Internet and more than 4.2 billion social media users worldwide (Kemp, 2021). The large number of social media users and the nearly universal presence of social media allows human traffickers to recruit and exploit victims to whom they would not previously have had access. Social networking sites, although not inherently harmful, allow traffickers the ability to recruit and exploit victims anonymously with very little risk of being discovered (Kunze, 2010). Individuals who spend greater amounts of time on social media sites are more at risk of becoming human trafficking victims, as they are able to be contacted by anonymous traffickers to whom they would typically not have access without social media. Young social media users are also at higher risk of human trafficking victimization than older users because they spend more time on social media than older users and are more likely to share personal information about themselves with traffickers. This willingness to share private information with predators online makes them easier targets for human traffickers. Traffickers take advantage of young social media users and groom them to gain their trust and, eventually, isolate them from their friends and family and manipulate them (Lewis & Llewellyn, 2019).

The research conducted in this study reveals a need for increased education and awareness regarding the dangers and risks of social media use, especially by younger users. Increased awareness and precautions in social media use are critical to reducing the threat of human trafficking victimization in social media users.

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