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Child sex trafficking: know the signs and how to help


Last updated 2/11/2018 at Noon

Each year, hundreds of thousands of children go missing in the United States, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Of those who go missing, it is impossible to know how many are trapped in the sex trafficking, the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking said.

“There are hundreds of thousands, and potentially over a million, victims trapped in the world of sex trafficking in the United States. Because of the hidden nature of the crime, it is essentially impossible to know how many for sure,” the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking said.

Human trafficking is a $150 billion business annually, and no one is excluded from the danger. Men, women and children around the world are all susceptible to the crime. According to the Human Trafficking Center,, 20.9 million people around the world are trafficked each year, although “even the best estimates likely have some degree of inaccuracy since it’s difficult to measure activity within illicit markets.” Additionally, many individuals who are trafficked don’t identify as such, often because of fear or unfamiliarity with the concept of trafficking.

So, what exactly is human trafficking? According to USIAHT, human trafficking is defined as modern-day slavery happening everywhere in the United States.

“Victims can be U.S. citizens or of any nationality, age, socioeconomic status or gender,” USIAHT said. “Sex trafficking is a highly profitable crime that exploits an adult through force, fraud or coercion or that engages a child in any form of commercial sexual exploitation.”

According to the FBI, human trafficking is believed to be the third-largest criminal activity in the world.

Human trafficking isn’t just about those questionable massage parlors and prostitution. More specific forms of trafficking include domestic servitude, forced marriage, child soldiering, forced begging, forced criminal activity and organ trafficking, too. Out of all of the human trafficking crimes, child sex trafficking and child sexploitation are perhaps the vilest crimes of the bunch.

January 2018 was named National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so as the month comes to a close, Valley News believes it is important to learn who is at risk, what the signs are and how to help.

link“Of the nearly 25,000 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2017, one in seven were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Of those, 88 percent were in the care of social services when they went missing,” the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children said.

“Under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act,1 child sex trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing or soliciting a child under 18 years of age for the purpose of a commercial sex act. This means that any child, 17 years of age or younger, who is involved in a commercial sex act, including prostitution, is a victim of sex trafficking. The commercial exchange can include, but is not limited to, money, food, shelter and/or drugs. Regardless of whether or not the child has identified a trafficker that child is still a victim. A child is not able to consent to being bought or sold.”

Risk factors

While any child can be targeted by a trafficker, research has shown that traffickers often target children with increased vulnerabilities, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Risk factors include children who are chronically missing or who frequently run away; 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; and children who identify as LGBTQ and have been kicked out or who have been stigmatized by their family.

Signs of child sex trafficking

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children reports there are some indicators to help law enforcement and other child-serving professionals determine if a child may be at-risk or is currently being recruited or exploited through possible child sex trafficking.

“While no single indicator confirms the existence of child sex trafficking, several indicators combined can increase the likelihood that a child is being exploited or is actively being targeted and recruited. Victims of child sex trafficking can include male, female and LGBTQ children.

“Indicators can include both behavioral or physical symptoms.

“Behavioral signs of sex trafficking can include significant changes in behavior, including and increase in online activity; avoidance in answering questions or letting others speak for him or her; appearing frightened, resistant or belligerent to law enforcement; lying about their age or identity; looking to others before answering questions; not asking for help and resisting offers to get out of the situation and being preoccupied with “getting money.”

Physical signs of sex trafficking can include evidence of travel such as hotel keys, hotel receipts or other items from hotels or motels; having a name or symbol tattooed, burned or branded onto their body, particularly when coupled with a reluctance to explain the tattoo or when it matches other children’s tattoos; presence of an overly controlling or abusive “boyfriend” or older female and having unaddressed medical issues or going to the ER or clinic alone or with an unrelated female.

For a full list of potential risk factors and identifiers, visit

How to help

Anyone can report suspected child sex trafficking to NCMEC through the CyberTipline at, calling NCMEC’s 24 hour hotline at (800) 843-5678, calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888 or by contacting local law enforcement.

NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline with specialists available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year, related to potential trafficking victims, suspicious behaviors or locations where trafficking is suspected to occur.


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