Surprisingly, radicalization has more in common with domestic violence and trafficking than might meet the eye. Radicalization is seen as activation of an individual into an ideology, whereas domestic violence and trafficking victims are seen as exactly that: victims. Yet, the truth is that all three systems work in the same way.
Hearing the stories of domestic violence victims and traffickers, plus the first responders trained to help them, you hear one commonality: a gradual shift in treatment until a threshold is crossed.
This weekend I spoke with a first responder that helps domestic violence victims and victims of human trafficking who shared a bit about the signs and language she picks up on when she’s assisting callers on a hotline. Key within her stories is a common thread I’ve heard from other activists and humanitarians assisting the vulnerable.
Domestic violence is a gradual progression of behavior until it becomes the norm. Women (and men) who are victims of domestic violence are rarely beaten on the first date. In fact, they are usually charmed into a fast-moving relationship, followed by what is rationalized as an “out of character” flare-up that has the victim second guessing their own behavior. Those flare-ups continue escalating until abuse become the norm and the victim’s entire view of reality and their own self-confidence is contingent upon this other person.
Similarly, some victims of sex trafficking can go up to a year getting to know an individual before they are lured or pulled past a threshold into being sold. In other words, just like domestic violence victims, the behavior is not something that can be red-flagged on Day One. It’s a gradual progression.
In some cases, girls as young as 13-years-old are courted and “dating” young men as old as 19-years-old, sometimes for up to a year before they’re encouraged to run away with their “boyfriend.” Once they run away, the girls are sold to a pimp or “daddy” in order to help pay the bills. The profile for these girls is always the same: disconnected from their families with high susceptibility to outside influence.
In other cases, girls are scouted as models by recruiters and put through a series of legitimate-seeming photoshoots in faraway locations. Traffickers meet with their parents; all their data is collected as part of the application process for becoming a model. On the third or fourth “shoot” the girls are abducted.
In all of these cases, long before there is physical harm, there is a pathway bricked by psychological harm, manipulation and deceit.
Radicalization takes a similar path, with recruiters developing relationships with their prey before these vulnerable individuals are finally pulled in.
Domestic violence and sex trafficking also mirror radicalization in that no one becomes a radical overnight. Even those who are self-radicalized online go through a gradual process of indoctrination where the goalpost of what would typically be seen as questionable behavior is pushed further until what is “typical” becomes very disfigured to the objective viewer. Meanwhile the victim rarely sees it coming (if at all) until it is too late.