The Issue: What is Sex Trafficking?

What is Sex Trafficking?

Simply put, sex trafficking is terrible and should be stopped.

It is a form of modern-day slavery that exists right here in the United States. It is when someone does a commercial sex act through force, fraud or coercion OR when the person who performs the act is under 18 years old. Any item of value, such as money, food, clothes, shelter, can be traded for any sexual service. Domestic minor sex trafficking, also called child sex trafficking, is the commercial sexual exploitation of American children within U.S. borders for monetary or other compensation, like shelter, food, drugs, etc. This is synonymous with child sex slavery, sex slavery, child sex trafficking, prostitution of children, and commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act sex trafficking requires force, fraud or coercion unless the victim is a minor. Any minor used in a commercial sex act (the exchange of any item of value for a sex act) IS a victim of trafficking, regardless of their willingness or desire to engage in the sex act (Shared Hope).

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking is tied for second place with arms dealing and is fast growing, expected to outpace the drug trade within the next few years.[13] Many drug dealers are switching to selling humans for sexual purposes because it is viewed as a safer way to make money; drugs are evidence and do not require testimony[14], and in addition drug supplies need to be replenished, where as a victim can be exploited over and over again. [15]

What is Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children?

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is a catch all term that covers the various methods of how children are abused, most typically for the financial gain of a third party but not always, and includes prostitution, pornography, sex tourism and other forms of human trafficking. These child victims are coerced, deceived, and forced into performing commercial sex acts. CSEC is a violation of children’s human rights, international law, federal law, and the laws of many states.

CSEC is one of the worst, yet unaddressed, forms of child abuse in the United States. It can happen in any city or town, trapping children of all social backgrounds in violence and trauma. Despite their abuse, victims are frequently arrested, detained, and even prosecuted as juvenile offenders.

Myths and Facts

Myth: Sex Trafficking happens only across international borders

Fact: Cases of domestic human trafficking have been reported in all fifty states. People born in the USA are trafficking

Myth: Sex trafficking happens by physical force. Often girls are kidnapped and sold for sex.

Fact: Sex trafficking can happen to anyone by psychological control, as well as physical. Girls can be manipulated or coerced overtime. This often first happens by offering gifts, money, shelter and affections. Later, abusive and threatening behaviors are more common to sustain the power dynamic.

Myth: Victims of sex trafficking come from low-income families, and are often of color or from immigrant families.

Fact: Victims of sex trafficking come from various backgrounds and are often minors induced into commercial sex acts. Although the majority of cases do indeed come from a low-income immigrant communities, this demographic is shifting to include middle class white victims.

Myth: Sex trafficking is the same thing as prostitution and sex work.

Fact: No. The legal definition of sex trafficking is an. A. act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age or b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection in involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

 Myth: Sex trafficking only happens to little girls.

Fact: Sex trafficking happens to boys, older girls, and transgender individuals too. Although the reported numbers are higher for girls ages 12-18, this does not exclude them from being sold in the sex industry.

Myth: Teenagers that have been prostituted are bad kids and chose to be in that life.
Fact: These children are almost always coerced or forced into prostitution, and even if they did choose it “willingly,” if they are under 18, they are not legally old enough to make such a decision. Although each state has different limits in terms of age of consent, under the TVPA and Safe Harbor, anybody under the age of 18 who is sexually exploited for commercial reasons is automatically considered a victim of child sex trafficking.

Myth: Children who are sexually exploited are not seen as criminals and are protected by the government.

Fact: Although this is now changing, only recently has this perception shifted. The Safe Harbor legislation is one way in which state governments are taking an active role in the protection of children. Safe Harbor laws often mirror the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, which is Federal Legislation that defines children engaging in commercial sex as victims and not criminals.[3] The reason why Safe Harbor legislation is needed is because the TVPA is only utilized when the FBI or other federal law enforcement agencies are involved. Since local police officers most likely to encounter trafficked children, it is important they be given the tools to save these children.

Myth: Adolescents and teenagers who are sex trafficked can leave the trade whenever they want.

Fact: The relationship between a trafficker and their victim is complex. The child may have run away from home, dropped out of school, and broke other laws while with the trafficker, such as aiding the trafficker in drug dealing. These victims are afraid of the police and feel like they cannot return home out of guilt and shame. Some traffickers brand all their victims with the same tattoo in the same place so they see themselves as belonging to the trafficker, reinforcing the mental prison. Many victims also associate love and compassion for their trafficker- as many traffickers trick their victims into “the life” by pretending to love and care for them. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Stockholm Syndrome are also prevalent with victims of trafficking. Even if victims of CSEC do manage to overcome their fears and leave, their traffickers may track them down.

Correct Terminology

Words have power. Here is a primer on appropriate language.

Don’t use: Child Prostitute

This term denotes agency, a child who chooses to be a prostitute.

Do use: Victim, Child Victim, or Prostituted Child. For someone who is no longer being exploited you can use Survivor or Child Survivor.


Don’t Use: Pimp

This term has lost so much of its previous negative connotation due in large part to popular media portrayals of traffickers as comical minstrels or underdog, urban heroes.

Do use: Use Trafficker or Panderer instead.

Don’t use: “John”

This term denotes anonymity without portraying the person for what they are, an exploiter of children for sex.

Do Use: Child Sex Purchaser, Sex Buyer, or Exploiter.