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What Communities Need to Know about Child Sex Trafficking

Human Trafficking

A picture of young girl with the statements "Look Beneath the Surface" and "Human Trafficking is Modern Day Slavery" placed overBy Katherine Chon, Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons

Earlier this week, the FBI announced the results of a nationally coordinated effort across 76 cities to find child victims of sex trafficking.  Federal and local law enforcement identified 105 children and arrested 150 pimps over the course of three days.  Some of the girls were as young as 13 years old. 

Human traffickers thrive on manipulating the hopes, dreams, and needs of children and adults into various forms of exploitation.  Traffickers operate best when they fly under the radar of community attention.  So, here are five things communities need to know to help turn this problem around:

  1. Don’t blame the victims:  No child wakes up in the morning to decide to go into the commercial sex industry.  Victims are actively preyed upon by traffickers through deception, manipulation, coercion, and physical force.  Communities often judge, blame, and shame victims and survivors of human trafficking based on common misconceptions, especially when outward appearances or behaviors may be masking the internal response to abuse and violence.  For more information on how to provide trauma-informed responses to child trafficking, see the Administration for Children and Families’ Information Memorandum on Promoting Social and Emotional Well-Being for Children and Youth Receiving Child Welfare Services
  2. Anyone can be vulnerable:  While race, class, and gender inform the set of vulnerabilities for exploitation, human trafficking impacts diverse communities cutting across all ethnicities, socio-economic brackets, and geographical areas.  There are a number of populations that are typically under-represented through victim identification interventions in the community, including boys; Native American youth; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning youth.  To learn more, see ACF’s Fact Sheet on Child Victims of Human Trafficking
  3. Prostitution is not a victimless crime:  Both adults and children are victimized in commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking through physically, psychologically, and emotionally violent methods.  Not all victims of human trafficking are abducted into exploitation; victims are often gradually “seasoned” into violent situations through progressively severe forms of abuse.  Many victims of trafficking experience Stockholm Syndrome, or trauma bonding, which prevents them from easily leaving or even fully recognizing that they are a victim.  Abusers include both the trafficker and the buyer of commercial sex and not all buyers of children in prostitution are pedophiles.  Learn more about child trafficking and exploitation.   
  4. Human trafficking can happen anywhere:  The cases identified in the recent FBI investigation involved children victimized at truck stops, casinos, on the streets, and via websites.  Cases of child sex trafficking have also happened at strip clubs, phone chat services, private homes, and through pornography.  ACF’s Runaway and Homeless Youth program seeks to strengthen support and services for youth on the street who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers.  Learn more about the Street Outreach Program
  5. Survivors of trafficking can thrive with community support:  Know what to look for and train educators, health professionals, community-based and youth-serving organizations on how to identify and serve victims of trafficking.  Alex, one of the victims identified through the FBI, was exploited when she was 16 years old and recently spoke out about her recovery.  With community support, she finished high school, is living on her own, and plans to attend college.  Learn more about the ten emerging practices within child protection agencies that work to support survivors like Alex. 

To learn more about how to spot human trafficking, seek help, or report tips, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 or text BEFREE.

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