Speaker of sexual trafficking workshop opens up about personal experience

By Gustavo Buenrostro

Targets of human trafficking and tactics that human traffickers use was the topic of discussion at the Intersection of Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking workshop on Thursday in F5-211.

The speaker of the workshop, Lisa Vargas, said human traffickers target physically vulnerable groups of people so that they can overpower them.

She said they mostly target runaways, homeless youth and foreigners, but some do go after people who have been displaced because of natural disaster.

It’s not only women who are targeted but men and transgendered individuals too.

Vargas said that traffickers use multiple methods to get the victims to do what they want including emotionally abusing them, isolating them and, more commonly, threatening them.

They don’t only threaten the victim directly, but also threaten the victim’s family, she said.

She also said that many of the traffickers stalk and research the victim so they can emotionally manipulate them by taking them out and giving them gifts to make them feel special.

Vargas said that traffickers also isolate victims from their family, making them dependent on them.

Once they are dependent, the trafficker will make the victim do what they want, whether it be sex  or labor.

According to Vargas, human trafficking could be happening in someone’s own neighborhood.

“You never know who it could be happening to, whether it’s your neighbor or it could even be to the person right next to you. You don’t know,” said Vargas.

Vargas said labor trafficking can be found in agriculture, textile industries and the food services industry.

Sex trafficking can be found in hotels, motels, commercial-front brothels and internet ads.

Vargas spoke about her experience being a victim of sex trafficking.

She was trafficked by her father-in-law at the age of 12 and was in it for 20 years.

She said that he would abuse her and make her sleep with people.

At the age of 17, she became pregnant and he would threaten to use her daughter as a way to get her to do what he wanted.

She was able to get out of it and told police about him and his trafficking because he had 27 other victims that he was abusing.

Most victims do not tell the police who the trafficker or pimp is because they are either scared of them, or they love them.

Vargas said, like in domestic abuse, human trafficking falls into a cycle of violence.

The tension building phase, the active abuse phase and the honeymoon phase are all different stages in the cycle of violence.

Vargas said victims tend to suffer from Stockholm syndrome, which is when the victim falls in love with their captor. This is why some of the victims won’t tell the police about the traffickers.

The ELAWC offers a service called Project Las Muchachas, which is a circle of support for women and girls who are survivors of sexual exploitation, human trafficking or prostitution.

They also provide a hotline for rape and battering, which is (800) 585-6231.

“My hope is to bring awareness so (people) can see the signs. Many women can be in that situation and not realize what is being done,” said Vargas.


The initial publication of this story incorrectly said that it was the victim’s father who trafficked her. It was, rather, her father-in-law. A correction was made Oct. 20 to reflect that truth. 

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