National Person Finder’s Guide to Grooming and Trafficking


This is not a subject that anybody wishes to consider, but recent news stories in the UK and the USA suggest that it’s high time that people were better educated about how these criminal activities work and what relationship they have to missing persons.

People Trafficking in the USA

Fifteen-year-old Sophie Reeder has gone missing from her home in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and private detectives involved in her case are increasingly convinced that she may have been the victim of human trafficking. Girls like Sophie, who is described as ‘very beautiful’ are considered to be at increasing risk from sophisticated grooming and trafficking activities undertaken by organised gangs.

Missing persons and grooming

Both boys and girls are at risk of grooming which can take place in person or online. Our experienced missing persons investigators know that key hotspots for grooming attempts are school gates, parks and playgrounds and transport hubs like bus stops and train stations where students gather. University bars are also a key location for this kind of attempt.

Grooming involves three elements

1. Isolating the young person
2. Building a bond with them (this can take the form of drink or drugs)
3. Establishing power over them – this can be done through coercion or blackmail, through leading the young person to believe they are in love with the groomer.

How does grooming work and is it different to trafficking?

Grooming and trafficking overlap and both can lead to missing persons cases. The first element, isolating a young person, may involve removing them from friends and family so that they cannot find the resources to say no to the groomer. The second point often results from the groomer/trafficker supplying the youngster with drink and drugs to reduce their inhibitions and create a dependence. Often the final stage of establishing power can take the form of creating an addiction or telling the youngster that he or she owes debt, for drugs or travel for example, that can only be paid off by sex work. Forms of sex work that are common and lead to people going missing include web-camming (have sex on camera for a paying audience) and – for girls – club and pole dancing.

When young people go missing

At National Person Finder we sometimes discover that a young person’s disappearance is linked to grooming or sex trafficking – in these cases, sensitive investigation is necessary because organised grooming and people trafficking involves people with large resources and a well-organised way of keeping young people moving so that they can rarely be identified or returned to their families.

Our skilled investigators have been instrumental in restoring missing youngsters to many families and are experienced in the complex process of discovering the whereabouts of missing young people and extracting them from difficult situations.