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Child Sex Trafficking

Child sex trafficking is defined by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 as “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, soliciting a child for commercial sex, including prostitution and the production of child pornography.” The people who commit this crime, often referred to as traffickers or pimps, mainly target vulnerable children. It is essential to understand that no child is immune to becoming a victim of child sex trafficking, but some are more vulnerable than others. As a result, traffickers target children of African American, Latinx descent, LGBTQ+, runaways, migrants, homeless, or have a connection to the child welfare system. Traffickers lure these children in with stability, a false sense of love or friendship, food, and other manipulative methods. Once they have the children in their grasp, traffickers control them through physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse. It is also quite common for traffickers to isolate these children from their homes and families, altering their physical appearances, or constantly moving locations. In doing so, victims are more likely to remain loyal to their trafficker and develop a deep mistrust of law enforcement.

Who are the most vulnerable?

On average, sex traffickers target children in foster care because of their increased vulnerability due to a lack of family, emotional relationships, and support. Racial and ethnic children are also more likely to be targeted by traffickers due to the hyper-sexualized stereotypes that stem from colonization and historical oppression that has stunted the upward mobility and socioeconomic opportunity for communities of color in the United States. Migrant, refugee, and forcibly displaced children are also more susceptible to sex trafficking as many are unaccompanied minors whose vulnerability is exploited by traffickers. LGBTQ+ youth, especially those that are homeless and run away, have fewer socioeconomic opportunities. Thus, compelling them to turn to commercial sex to meet their basic needs and find a sense of love from their traffickers that their biological families failed to provide. Homeless and runaway youth are also at greater risk of being targeted by sex traffickers.

Demographics

60% of child sex trafficking victims have a history with the child welfare system.

Many sex trafficking victims were young runaway girls who were sexually abused as children. 1 in 6 runaways reported missing were likely sex trafficking victims, and of those, 88% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran away.

When reviewing all suspected human trafficking incidents across the United States, African American girls made up 40% of sex trafficking victims.

Looking at the data gathered by the FBI, African American children comprise 42.2% of juvenile prostitution arrests.

Overall, LGBTQ+ youth make up 39% of sex trafficking victims. 58.7% of homeless LGBTQ+ youth are exploited through sexual prostitution.

Transgender youth are at greater risk and have had the highest incidence of sex trafficking. Researchers at Loyola found that at least 56% of transgender youth were victims of child sex trafficking.

Did you know...

  • As of 2019, there are approximately 22,326 victims and survivors of human trafficking in the United States alone.
  • Globally, it is estimated that around 40.3 million people are being trafficked. 25% of those being trafficked are children.
  • There are many forms of human trafficking, but sex trafficking is one of the world’s fastest-growing criminal industries, generating around $150 billion a year.
  • Technological advancements have facilitated this growth.
  • The average age of child sex trafficking victims are between the ages of 11-14 Family members exclusively traffic most children under the age of ten.
  • 74% of child trafficking cases involved sex trafficking, and the majority of those involved pimp-controlled prostitution.
  • There are four types of child sex trafficking: pimp-controlled, gang-controlled, familial, and buyer-perpetrated.
  • Three main tools traffickers use trust, coercion, and technology.
  • Gender also plays a major role in child sex trafficking as girls are twice as more likely to be victims of child sex trafficking than boys.

Signs of Child Sex Trafficking

Child sex trafficking can be difficult to detect as it mainly occurs online, in hotels, and homes. However, it is essential to be able to recognize some of the signs of child sex trafficking. Below are some physical and behavioral indicators of child sex trafficking published by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

  • Appears malnourished
  • Has poor or unaddressed physical and dental health
  • Has signs of physical abuse
  • Avoids eye contact, social interaction, and law enforcement
  • Lacks official identification documents
  • Seems to have a scripted or rehearsed response Lacks personal possessions
  • Has possession of condoms or lubrication
  • Tattoos, also known as branding, on neck or lower back Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Living out of cars, motels, or suitcases
  • Checking into hotels with older males and referring to them as ‘daddy’ Untreated sexually transmitted diseases
  • Not being allowed to speak for themselves or never being left alone Has a history of running away from home
  • Unexplained absences in school or sleeping in class
  • Victims often stop participating in activities they once enjoyed Has a significant change in behavior
  • Lies about their age and identity Has a secret online profile
  • Appears frightened, annoyed, and resistant to law enforcement
  • Uses language associated with child sex trafficking such as “trick”, “the life”, or “the game”
  • References online escort ads

Risk factors that contribute to child sex trafficking

Familial

  • Inter-generational sexual abuse
  • Lack of acceptance of gender identity or sexual orientation 
  • Housing instability/homelessness
  • Immigration status
  • Adverse childhood experiences:
    • Domestic violence 
    • Household substance abuse
    • Physical/emotional neglect or abuse
    • Sexual abuse
    • Families with untreated mental health issues

Individual

  • History of trauma
  • Lack of supportive family or adult figures 
  • Low self-esteem
  • Developmental or physical disability
  • Substance abuse

Societal and Environmental

  • Racism 
  • Bullying
  • Lack of resources
  • Involvement in child welfare or juvenile justice systems 
  • Gang activity
  • Sexism 
  • Xenophobia

Common misconceptions of child sex trafficking

Myth

  • Child sex traffickers only kidnap their victims.
  • Parents and guardians need to be suspicious of strangers as they may be hunting their next prey.
  • Some teenagers have loose morals, so we should not worry about them.
  • The only way to stop child sex trafficking is by arresting every predator.
  • All children are equally at risk of being trafficked.
  • All child trafficking involves sex.
While awareness of sex trafficking in the United States is rising, it is still largely viewed as a problem in other countries—not our problem. On the contrary, experts estimate that the United States is the world’s second-largest sex trafficking market. A staggering 40 percent of these cases involve domestic minor sex trafficking.
(DMST)

Fact

  • Most child sex traffickers lure them in and build trust with their victims to manipulate them.
  • Children and adolescents are more likely to be trafficked by family members or people they already know.
  • Anyone under the age of 18 who is involved in sexual services is a victim under the law. Regardless, we should still care for them and aim to help them in any way we can.
  • Arresting the perpetrators alone will not fix the problem of child sex trafficking.
  • Instead, we need to build stronger communities and families that will help prevent child sex trafficking from happening in the first place.
  • Every child is at risk for child sex trafficking. However, it is crucial to understand that some children are more vulnerable than others. On average, foster children, African American, Latinx, Native American, LGBTQ+, homeless, and runaway youth are at greater risk for being targeted by sex traffickers. Also, children who have a history of abuse, unstable living situations, and family members battling addictions are at greater risk.
  • Children are also victims of labor trafficking, especially boys.

What can be done to help?

According to the U.S. Department of State, these are 15 ways you can help fight human trafficking. Along with these, it is important to talk about sexual extortion and grooming if you have kids. You can also report trafficking activity and abusive content; talk to your representatives about child sex trafficking legislation; donate to organizations such as the NCMEC; stay informed, and share what you have learned.

  1. According to the U.S. Department of State, these are 15 ways you can help fight human trafficking. Along with these, it is important to talk about sexual extortion and grooming if you have kids. You can also report trafficking activity and abusive content; talk to your representatives about child sex trafficking legislation; donate to organizations such as the NCMEC; stay informed, and share what you have learned.
  2. Learn the indicators of human trafficking to identify potential trafficking victims better.
  3. Human trafficking awareness training for businesses, educators, law enforcement, and federal employees is available and can be a great help.
  4. Report your suspicions to law enforcement by calling 911 or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Line 1-888-373-7888.
  5. Be a conscientious and informed consumer. Along with this, encourage companies to ensure that they are not partaking in human trafficking.
  6. Volunteer, support, and donate to anti-trafficking organizations.
  7. Meet with your local representatives and ask them what they are doing to combat child sex trafficking.
  8. Organize fundraisers and donate the proceeds to anti-human trafficking organizations
  9. Encourage your local schools to include modern slavery in their curriculum in order to spread awareness of human trafficking.
  10. Be well informed and stay up t date with human trafficking news.
  11. Work with a local religious community or congregation to help stop trafficking by supporting a victim service provider or spreading awareness of human trafficking.
  12. Businesses can help by providing jobs, internships, skill training, and other opportunities to human trafficking survivors.
  13. Students can help spread awareness by taking action on campus. This includes creating clubs, coalitions, or holding events.
  14. Health care providers must learn the signs of human trafficking and provide low-cost or free services along with anti-human trafficking organizations.
  15. Journalists can help with how human trafficking is portrayed in the media. It can also help facilitate a conversation about child sex trafficking within the public.
  16. Attorneys can offer free or low-cost services to victims.

Human Trafficking Hotlines

National Human Trafficking Hotline

1-888-373-7888

Or text “BeFree” 233733

Or email help@humantraffickinghotline.org

Homeland Security

1-866-347-2423 to report suspected human trafficking

1-888-373-7888 to get help from the national human trafficking hotline

NCMEC Hotline: 1-800-843-5678

Global Modern Slavery Directory

Mexican National Human Trafficking Hotline

555-533-5533

800-5533-000

Sex traffickers target children in foster care and group homes. These children are more vulnerable to exploitation because of the trauma they have experienced and the lack of a permanent, stable home.

  • It is estimated that up to 40.3 million people around the world are being trafficked.
  • Sex trafficking is one of the world’s fastest growing criminal industries. Trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion a year.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, especially children connected to the child welfare system. In the U.S., 60 percent of domestic child trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system.
  • Traffickers target youth in foster care because of their increased vulnerability due to a lack of family and emotional relationships and support.
  • 74% of child trafficking cases involved sex trafficking, and the majority of those involved pimp-controlled prostitution.
  • The average age of child sex trafficking victims is 15, according to numbers of children reported missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
  • Many sex trafficking victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children. 1 in 7 runaways reported missing were likely sex trafficking victims, and of those, 88% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran.

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