Sex trafficking in America is commonly misunderstood by much of the population, as many consider it to only encompass those illegally brought to America from other countries, in order to work in the sex trade against their will. However, domestic human trafficking is a flourishing epidemic that targets our country’s young citizens, as well as adults. Minor victims of human trafficking are sometimes recruited for slave labor, but most are forced to work in the sex trade. In order for one to be considered trafficked in the sex industry, one does not need to depart their state of residence, though they are commonly relocated to another city.

Sex trafficking, as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), is 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, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. This happens in every state in the nation. At-risk youth are most often the targets of domestic human trafficking, as predators seek vulnerable minors to single out. Some of the most common environmental and situational variables of trafficked minors in America include:

  • Homeless youth and runaways
  • Those suffering poverty
  • Those who have suffered physical or sexual abuse
  • Those with disruptions in normal development
  • Those in the foster care system
  • Those who fit into the LGBT category
  • Those suffering substance abuse issues

Pimps have the most success finding children facing vulnerabilities, and once they have a child in their possession, they use force and scare tactics to keep them under their control. Traffickers use fraud, coercion and force to compel women, men, and children to engage in illegal sexual activities.

Fraud: Fraud involves false promises regarding employment, wages, working conditions, or other matters. For example, traffickers might tout exciting job prospects such as modeling or other illustrious forms of earning, only to eventually force them into prostitution. Children dealing with problems in the home are sometimes in search of a loving family unit, and they are falsely led to believe that they are loved and cared for by their captor.

Coercion: Coercion can include threats of physical harm or legal ramifications. When a trafficked minor reaches the age of 18, after being under a pimp’s control for some time, they fear they will face prostitution charges due to their adult status. Even those who are under the age of 18 often fear prosecution, as their traffickers have told them they will be charged with a crime if they contact law enforcement.

Force: Force involves the use of physical harm or restraint. Physical violence, including rape, beatings and confinement, is regularly used to control victims. This sort of treatment breaks down a victim’s resistance and makes them afraid to disobey, out of fear of worsening force.

The exact number of child victims of sex trafficking in America is undetermined due to a lack of scientific data and comprehensive research.

Assistance for Victims of Trafficking

Before the enactment of TVPA in 2000, no thorough Federal law was in place to protect trafficking victims or to prosecute those who had trafficked them. The TVPA and its subsequent reauthorizations have worked to ward off human trafficking both in the US and abroad, to increase prosecution of human traffickers, and to support victims by supplying services and benefits intended to help them move forward. Specialized services designed to assist minor victims of sex trafficking are limited. Many organizations who specialize in this area are limited in the number of children they can serve due to space issues in shelters and a lack of foster home availability.

Another obstacle minors face when they are revealed to have been trafficked for the purpose of working in the sex industry is that they are labeled by law enforcement as being prostitutes or juvenile delinquents. Training law enforcement on how to relate to these victims is key to creating an environment in which minors feel more confident to come forward. These victims are too often placed in juvenile detention facilities, where they receive no protective and social services. Such treatment pushes minor victims into the juvenile justice system and essentially re-victimizes them in many instances.

Citizens can assist in eradicating child sex trafficking in America by educating themselves on how to identify trafficking victims, as many are considered to be hidden in plain sight. This is especially prudent in the area of slave labor. However, there are many sex trafficking victims walking among the masses, wishing for an outlet for hope and assistance. Until the true definition of human trafficking is understood, we stand to lose many more vulnerable minors and adults to the nefarious practices of traffickers.