Child sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, or advertising of a minor child for the purpose of a commercial sex act, which involves the exchange of anything of value – such as money, drugs or a place to stay – for sexual activity.
While any child can be targeted by a trafficker, research has shown that traffickers often target children with increased vulnerabilities and prey upon a child’s vulnerability and use psychological pressure and intimidation to control, and sexually exploit, the child for financial benefit. However, the issue of child sex trafficking is complex and not all instances of child sex trafficking involve an identified trafficker. In such cases, it is the person buying sex from the child who exploits the child’s vulnerabilities. Traffickers and buyers of children for sex encompass all racial, socio-economic and cultural groups. Child sex trafficking has devastating consequences for its minor victims, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease, and/or even death.
A21 and NCMEC teamed up on the “Can You See Me” campaign to increase awareness that child sex trafficking is happening in plain sight. Victims of child sex trafficking are everywhere. Would you recognize the signs? Can you see them?
While any child can be targeted by a trafficker, research has shown that traffickers often target children with increased vulnerabilities, including:
- Children who are chronically missing or who frequently run away (especially 3+ missing incidents)
- Children who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, especially if the abuse was unreported or unaddressed, or resulted in the child being removed from the home
- Children who have experienced prior sexual assault or rape
- Children with significant substance abuse issues or who live with someone who has significant substance abuse issues
- Children who identify as LGBTQ and have been kicked out or who have been stigmatized by their family.
While no single indicator confirms the existence of child sex trafficking, several indicators combined can mean it is more likely that a child is being exploited or is actively being targeted and recruited. That is why being aware of the following indicators is so important:
- Child has a significant change in behavior, including increased virtual behavior, or associates with a new group of friends
- Child avoids answering questions or lets others speak for him or her
- Child appears frightened, resistant, or belligerent to law enforcement
- Child lies about his or her age and identity
- Child looks to others before answering questions
- Child does not ask for help or resists offers to get out of the situation (child does not self-identify as a victim)
- Child seems coached in talking to law enforcement
- Child uses trafficking-related terms like “Trick,” “The Life,” or “The Game”
- Child is preoccupied with “getting money” (e.g., displaying photos of cash)
- Child has multiple cell phones and/or electronic devices
- Child has large amounts of cash or pre-paid credit cards
- Child has no ID, or ID is held by another person
- Multiple children are present with an unrelated male or female
- Child has unusual/unexplained sexual paraphernalia (such as bulk condoms or lubrication) (More +)
- There is evidence the child has been or will be traveling (child is living out of suitcases, at motels, or in a car)
- Child has a name or symbol tattooed, burned, or branded onto his or her body, particularly when coupled with the child’s reluctance to explain the tattoo, the child’s tattoo matches other children’s tattoos, the tattoo indicates money or ownership (ex. MOB, barcode or $)
- Child references traveling to other cities or states or is not from the current location; the child may also lack knowledge of his or her travel plans, destinations, and/or his or her current location.
- Child has hotel keys, hotel receipts, or other items from a hotel/motel
- Presence of an overly controlling or abusive “boyfriend” or older female
- Child is recovered at a hotel, street track, truck stop, or strip club
- Child has notebooks or slips of paper containing phone numbers, dollar amounts, names, or addresses
- Child has items or an appearance that does not fit his or her current situation (e.g., a homeless or runaway child who has money, electronics, new clothes or shoes, and who has his or her hair and nails done)
- Child references online classified ads or escort websites
- Child references traveling job opportunities (including modeling, singing and/or dancing in a music group, or magazine sales crew)
- Child has unaddressed medical issues or who goes to the ER or clinic alone, or with an unrelated adult.
By the Numbers
Of the more than 23,500 endangered runaways reported to NCMEC in 2018, one in seven were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
Today, the average age of child sex trafficking victims reported missing to NCMEC is only 15 years old.
Child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 U.S. States.
What NCMEC is Doing About it
Providing a Specialized Response
NCMEC provides specialized technical assistance, analysis and recovery services on cases involving child sex trafficking, including:
- reviewing CyberTipline reports related to child sex trafficking;
- assisting on cases of missing children involved in, or at risk of, trafficking;
- providing technical assistance and training to help with the identification, location and provision of recovery planning and services to victims of child sex trafficking
- supporting the recovery of victims by making referrals for post-recovery resources and services for child sex trafficking victims and their families
- providing peer-to-peer support for families of child sex trafficking victims
Training Professionals on How to Identify and Respond to Child Sex Trafficking
NCMEC provides specialized child sex trafficking training for law enforcement and educators to help identify and respond to child sex trafficking that can be provided online or in-person. To learn more about our training options and to apply, click here.
Helping Survivors Rebuild Their Lives with Hope Bags
Often, when child victims of sex trafficking are recovered, they have only the clothes on their backs. NCMEC provides “Hope Bags” to survivors, filled with basic necessities, such as toiletries, a change of clothes and shoes, and snacks, to help ensure they have all they need in the hours and days after they are recovered.
Your donation provides survivors with a Hope Bag and other valuable resources to rebuild their lives. Your support will contribute towards our mission to help bring an end to child sexual exploitation and find the missing.
$10 provides all new toiletries
$15 provides snacks, a journal, and a food gift card
$25 provides a fresh change of clothes and shoes
$55 provides a complete Hope Bag
Building Awareness about the Issue
NCMEC writes, contributes to, and/or houses multiple publications pertaining to child sex trafficking. See them allhere.
Child sex trafficking occurs when a child under 18 is involved in a commercial sex act where sex is traded for money, food, shelter, drugs or anything else of value. This crime is occurring in all types of communities throughout the United States and traffickers are making an alarming profit while victims endure countless days and nights of rape, abuse, torture and violence.
It’s important to remember that even if the child believes it was his or her choice, they are a victim, and an adult or perpetrator is exploiting their vulnerabilities. A child cannot consent to sex with an adult. As such there is no such thing as child prostitution and that phrase should never be used when referring to child sex trafficking.
|KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS
Children frequently do not reveal their victimization because they’re being manipulated by a trafficker who has physical and psychological control over them, or out of the shame and guilt that may exist as a result of their exploitation. Parents and guardians should familiarize themselves with some of the indicators of child sex trafficking.
|CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING INDICATORS
· Large amounts of cash, multiple cell phones or hotel keys;
· A history of running away or current status as a runaway;
· Tattoos or branding related to money or ownership and/or the child is unwilling to explain;
· Signs of current physical abuse and/or multiple sexually transmitted diseases;
· Presence of, or communication with, a controlling older boyfriend or girlfriend;
· Gang involvement, especially among girls;
· Travel to other states or staying at hotels when he or she runs away.
For a full list of indicators visit http://www.missingkids.org/theissues/cse/cstt
HOW TO KEEP YOUR CHILD SAFE
One of the most important things you can do to protect your child is to create an environment in which he or she feels comfortable talking with you. Open communication is key. Help make your children more aware by explaining the dangers of sex trafficking and by challenging myths and misconceptions that glamorize commercial sex. This includes having conversations with them about online safety and how traffickers/pimps use social networking sites and apps to mask not only their appearance but also their true intentions while recruiting new victims.
Do you trust the people with whom your child interacts? Knowing who your child is with is always crucial to protecting his or her safety. Also, it’s very important to monitor what your child does and who your child is interacting with on the internet.
Lastly, if something doesn’t seem right, ask questions!
Child Sex Trafficking in America
HOW DOES A CHILD BECOME A VICTIM?
Child sex trafficking victims could be anyone – your daughter, neighbor, or nephew. Traffickers recruit victims in schools, online through social media, at shopping malls, bus stations or even foster care or group homes.
Perpetrators of sex trafficking often target children believing their age makes them easier to manipulate and control.
Factors that make children particularly vulnerable include:
- A history of sexual abuse. Traffickers will work to identify any vulnerability in a child’s life and use that to create a closer bond to the child and to maintain future control;
- A history of running away or current status as a runaway; and
- An unstable home life and/or involvement in the child welfare or foster care system.
Pimps/traffickers may entice children using physical and psychological manipulation and sometimes violence. They will create a seemingly loving or caring relationship with his or her victim to establish trust and allegiance that remains even in the face of severe victimization.
WHO ARE THE PERPETRATORS?
Traffickers can be anyone who profits from the selling of a child for sex to a buyer, including: family members, foster parents, friends, gangs, trusted adults, or “boyfriends”.
Much of the trafficking of children has moved from street corners and truck stops to the internet, where children are sold for sex. Online classified sites allow traffickers and buyers anonymity and accessibility when exploiting children. Further, societal glamorization of “pimp culture” may make a child less likely to recognize or be wary of manipulative behavior.
In some cases, there is no identified trafficker, and it is the person buying sex from the child who is exploiting the child’s vulnerabilities. For instance, if a child runs away, a buyer may exploit the child’s need for food and shelter offering to provide that in exchange for sex.
A child cannot consent to being bought and sold for sex, and anyone purchasing sex from a child is committing a serious crime.
If a child is missing, the child’s legal guardian should immediately call law enforcement and then the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678). If you suspect a case of child sex trafficking, you can call 1-800-THE-LOST® or make a report at www.cybertipline.org. Copyright © 2017 National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. All rights reserved.