Child Sex Trafficking


It all started when...Is someone you know a victim? Each time a child runs away his or her chance of being targeted increases.


Youth being controlled by a trafficker or pimp frequently do not reveal their victimization because of the severe control their trafficker has over them, both physically and psychologically. Also, shame and guilt often keep victims silenced. If something does not seem right, ask questions! Establishing an ongoing, open, and nonjudgmental dialog with children is critical to building trust that can create space for prevention and intervention.

What is child sex trafficking?

Child sex trafficking is a global problem. It is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a child for the purposes of a commercial sex act.

Child sex trafficking is one of the most common types of commercial sexual exploitation. Child sex trafficking is a high priority at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) because these children are often currently missing and actively being exploited. Child sex trafficking victims include girls, boys, and LGBTQ youth. Victims could be anyone – your daughter, neighbor, or nephew. Knowledge and awareness are key in keeping your loved ones safer.

Children who are exploited through commercial sex are viewed as victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons, which is sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained eighteen years of age. A commercial sex act is “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.”

How does a child become a victim?

Traffickers target vulnerable children and lure them into sex trafficking using physical and psychological manipulation, and sometimes they may resort to violence. Any child may be vulnerable to such a person who promises to meet his or her emotional and physical needs. Often traffickers/pimps will create a seemingly loving or caring relationship with their victims in order to establish trust and allegiance. This manipulative relationship tries to ensure the youth will remain loyal to the exploiters even in the face of severe victimization. These relationships may begin online before progressing to real-life encounters.

Who are the pimps or Johns?

Pimps, also known as traffickers, can be anyone, including family members, foster parents, friends, gangs, trusted adults, or “boyfriends,” who profits from the selling of a minor to a buyer.

Targeted – Pimps are predators who seek out vulnerable victims. While any youth can be targeted by a pimp, runaways or children experiencing trouble at home are especially vulnerable. Traffickers know these children have emotional and physical needs that are not often being met and use this to their advantage. Pimps find victims at a variety of venues such as social networking Web sites, shopping malls, and schools; on local streets; or at bus stations.

Tricked – Pimps are willing to invest a great deal of time and effort in their victims to break down victims’ natural resistance and suspicion – buying them gifts, providing a place to stay, promising a loving relationship – before revealing their true intent. Frequently victims do not realize the deceptive nature of traffickers’ interest in them, viewing their pimps as caretakers and/or boyfriends.

Traumatized – A pimp’s use of psychological manipulation causes the child to truly believe the pimp cares for his or her well-being. Coupled with physical control this can make a victim feel trapped and powerless to leave. This “trauma bond” is difficult to break and specialized intervention and services are often necessary.

Psychology of victimization – Pimps may use force, fraud, or coercion to virtually enslave their victims. Juvenile victims have been controlled by threats of violence to their families; pornographic images taken and used for blackmail or stigmatization; physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Child victims may be gang-raped to desensitize them to sexual activity prior to victimizing them in prostitution. Victims are taught to not trust law enforcement and may have experienced negative encounters with law enforcement officers. Victims often remain with pimps out of fear of physical harm, having another victim endure physical harm, or because of threats to their family members. Pimps have been convicted of plotting to murder cooperative victim witnesses and for the homicide of victims, further instilling fear.

Signs and vulnerabilities to look for:

  • History of sexual abuse. Traffickers will work to identify any vulnerability in a young person’s life and use that to both create a closer bond and maintain future control.
  • History of running away or current status as a runaway.
  • Signs of current physical abuse and/or multiple sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Unstable home life and/or involvement in the child welfare or foster care system.
  • Inexplicable appearance of gifts, clothing, or other costly items that do not fit the child’s situation. Traffickers often buy gifts for their victims as a way to build a relationship and earn trust.
  • Presence of an older boy- or girlfriend. While they may seem “cool,” older friends or boyfriends are not always the caring individuals they appear to be.
  • Substance abuse of harder drugs. Pimps may also target youth with significant drug addictions as well as use drugs to lure and control their victims.
  • Withdrawal or lack of interest in previous activities. Due to depression or being forced to spend time with their pimps, victims lose control of their personal lives.
  • Gang involvement, especially among girls.

How to keep your child safer

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. Share the dangers of sex trafficking with your children and encourage them to alert you when they feel uncomfortable in any situation. Often trafficking victims have experienced victimization in the past, and many times this has been inflicted by individuals close to the victim. Do you trust the people with whom your child interacts? Knowing whom your child is with at all times is crucial to protecting his or her safety. When your son or daughter is online, do you know which sites he or she is visiting and with whom he or she is communicating? Taking the time to monitor what your child does and with whom he or she is interacting on the Internet is a VERY important step in keeping your child safer. If something does not seem right, ask questions!


If you suspect a case of commercial child sexual exploitation (includes child pornography) or sex trafficking of children, contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® at 1-800-843-5678 or visit

Or contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888.

For additional information and resources about commercial sexual exploitation of children and human trafficking, please visit the Innocence Lost National Initiative at