In the area of human trafficking, many falsely believe this includes only victims brought to the US from other countries. Another common misconception is that children are not often victims of sex trafficking. Creating a broader understanding of what human trafficking is and how sex trafficking affects every region of the United States is instrumental in bringing about awareness, and most importantly change.

Sex Trafficking Defined

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 200 defines sex trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion. Under U.S federal law, any minor under the age of 18 induced to commercial sexual activity is a sex trafficking victim, regardless of any methods of coercion used by the trafficker.

This means all minors forced into prostitution, some not even in their teens, are victims of human trafficking. Minors are recruited using coercion in public places and online. Misconceptions about what human trafficking is, result in underreporting, even in cases where someone in the child’s life suspects something is amiss.

Warning signs demonstrated by underage sex trafficking victims include:

  • Frequent unexplained school absences
  • Signs of drug addiction
  • Responses to questions seem rehearsed or coached
    • Makes references about frequent travel to other cities
  • Has a history of running away from home
  • Physical signs of abuse
  • Inappropriate forms of dress
  • Basic needs are not being met; shows signs of being sleep-deprived or malnourished
  • Displays signs of being uncharacteristically promiscuous
  • Has a love interest that is significantly older
  • Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, personal hygiene, relationships, or material possessions
  • Expresses a need to pay off a debt
  • Increased anxiety or extreme changes in personality

How Adult and Underage Victims Are Recruited

Situations of human trafficking victims’ vary to a large degree. Many are romantically involved with a trafficker at first, then find the intention of the relationship to be altered once the subject of performing acts of a sexual nature is introduced. Others are victimized when they believe they are being hired to work as a dancer, model or nanny, when they agree to move to a distant location, only to find the job was never real. In nearly every instance, one or more methods of coercion are put into play by a trafficker.

Traffickers employ techniques designed to prey on individual weaknesses and use situations to their advantage, including targeting children who are unhappy at home. With the emergence of online message boards and social media, securing new victims has become easier for traffickers, instead of more difficult.

Common methods of coercion used by sex traffickers include:

  • Violence/Force Serious physical injury, restraint, rape, and confinement are often utilized to control victims in the early stages of victimization, when the target’s resistance is broken down.
  • Threats The threat of abuse, to the victim and/or to the victims’ families, and warnings of severe retribution for non-compliance scare victims into following the lead of their trafficker and complying to demands to work in the sex industry.
  • Debt Bondage Peonage occurs when victims are held under the threat of a real or alleged debt and find it impossible to pay down the debt as charges and interest increase. Traffickers create unreal expectations to keep victims in a cycle of debt impossible to ever pay in full.
  • Fraud False promises regarding employment are made to victims who agree to relocate for work, while believing assurances about securing favorable employment. Upon arrival, they find the job promised was a ruse, and they are introduced to prostitution and oblige out of fear or financial need.

Human Trafficking Statistics

  • In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center responded to 21,947 calls, 1,535 webforms, and 1,275 emails.
  • Polaris’ BeFree Texting Helpline received 1,472 SMS messages in 2015.
  • Of the above signals, 5,973 referenced potential cases of human trafficking.
  • The leading location for sex trafficking was commercial-front brothels, with motel-based and residential brothels coming in second and third.
  • Human trafficking occurred in all 50 states in 2015.
  • Since 2007, over 25,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported to the NHTRC hotline and Polaris' BeFree Texting Helpline.
  • The top five trafficking locations referenced in overseas cases include: Mexico, Canada, Philippines, Thailand and the UK.

Human Trafficking Facts

  • California harbors 3 of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas in the nation (Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco).
  • The average ages of a child sex trafficking victim are 11-14.
  • Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Of that number, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries.
  • The National Human Trafficking Hotline fields more calls from the state of Texas than any other US state, and 15 percent of those calls originate from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
  • Between 14,500 - 17,500 people are trafficked into the US every year.
  • According to the US State Department, 600,000-800,000 individuals are trafficked across international borders each year, of which 80 percent are female, and half are minors.
Prostitution and Sex Trafficking

In a country where prostitution is criminalized, adults who make the conscious choice to work in the sex industry are not victims of sex trafficking. However, their relationship with law enforcement often deters adult women working in prostitution to report witnessing victims of child sex trafficking. Many believe decriminalization of prostitution would result in a higher level of reporting by women who would have otherwise been working illegally as prostitutes and by the victims themselves.

Knowing sex work is illegal, many victims worry about coming forward due the fear of being prosecuted. Traffickers often use threats of legal repercussions as an intimidation tactic to keep their victims from reporting. Being afraid they will be regarded as criminals keeps many underage and adult victims from going to police.

There is no single solution to ending human trafficking, but rather a series of actions that will rob pimps and traffickers of their power when they utilize severe tactics to essentially hold their victims hostage. Law enforcement stings only take a stab at a percentage of the problem, as it has become so rampant. More needs to be done at a grass-roots level to enable community members of all demographics to recognize victims and be emboldened to report suspected trafficking cases.