Sex trafficking research has been plagued by the lack of reliable data, limiting the ways we understand the multi-billion-dollar sex trafficking industry.

We posit that domestic, pimp-controlled sex trafficking – commonly referred to as “The Game” or “The Life”, is a commercial, polygamist sex trafficking cult. This theory is built upon our own research, as well as work from 15 Cult Characteristics by Janja Lalich, PhD., and Michael Langone, PhD; the BITE Model by Steven Hassan, PhD.; and 8 Mind Reform Techniques by Robert Lifton, M.D.

Published Writings

by The Avery Center

Understanding Trafficker Recruitment Strategies Through Cultic Theory

8 Characteristics Cults and Human Trafficking Schemes Share

Cultic Theory of Pimp-Controlled Sex Trafficking

Megan Lundstrom, Avery Center's Director of Research, discusses Cultic Theory with Uprising and Brave

"The theory that we're operating off of is that domestic pimp controlled sex trafficking, which is commonly referred to as "The Game" or "The Life," is a commercial, polygamous cult." Watch the video recording or listen to the audio-only presentation.

Listen to the audio-only recording here or download directly to your device.

Cult Theory with Megan Lundstrom

Megan Lundstrom, Avery Center's Director of Research, discusses Cultic Theory with Jamie and Liz

"If someone is not physically chained up or confined, why can't they just walk away?" Join Megan, Jamie, and Liz for a discussion of the similarities between human trafficking and cult theory.

News Articles

featuring The Avery Center

Greeley experts slated to participate in conference about cults, gangs, sex trafficking | Greeley Tribune

Sex Trafficking, A Survivor's Story | Rotary Club of Fort Collins

The Avery Center | Health District of Northern Larimer County

Tiger King: A Story of Labor Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation - The Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation |

 'It's a Pandora's box that we opened': Fort Collins police on human trafficking | Cult News 101

The BITE Model of Authoritarian Control

Steven Hassan, PhD, is the creator of the BITE Model of Authoritarian Control and helped develop Ending The Game, a trauma-informed peer support group program for individuals who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.

Hassan is a counselor, cult expert, and former cult member. At 19 years old, he was recruited by the Unification Church and spent two and a half years with the group, until a near-fatal car accident helped him realize he’d been brainwashed, and led him to flee. He has since dedicated his life to becoming an expert on cults and has helped thousands of individuals leave and recover from the harmful influence of destructive cults.

His doctoral dissertation on Undue Influence, Thought Reform, Brainwashing, Mind Control, Trafficking and the Law offers quantitative evidence about the BITE model (Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotion) as a potential tool to help evaluate cases involving exploitative control or undue influence. BITE offers a clearly defined model based on observable behaviors that expert witnesses can use to evaluate the presence of mind control or thought reform across a variety of settings and groups.

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