Sex trafficking is the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is an egregious human rights, public health, and criminal justice violation that occurs every day across the U.S.

CSEC is often viewed as “different” from child sexual abuse. Few consider the two to be the same problem. However, CSEC is actually one form of child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is any sexual act between an adult and a minor or between two minors when one exerts power over the other. CSEC occurs when individuals buy, trade or sell sexual acts with a child. CSEC also includes the recruitment, harboring, transporting, provisioning or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act.

CSEC occurs along a spectrum spanning increasing levels of commercialization.

  • Child Sexual Abuse: The non-commercial sexual abuse of children.
  • Pornography: The production of pornography, for trade or sale.
  • Sex for Trade: Localized intermittent prostitution without a pimp, sometimes facilitated by parents, in trade for gifts, services or money.
  • Localized Prostitution: Localized prostitution through a pimp seeking financial gain.
  • National/International Trafficking: Prostitution through a national or international network of traffickers for financial gain.

There has been increased attention to CSEC and new, stronger laws and policies to assist victims in the U.S., but scant attention and resources have been dedicated to prevention efforts.


Prevention of child sexual abuse may also be effective in the prevention of more commercialized forms of abuse.

This assumption is based on two facts:

  • The National Institute of Justice estimates that 70 – 90% of children who are commercially exploited were sexually abused in a non-commercial manner prior to being commercially exploited. Preventing or intervening early in child sexual abuse (CSA) will interrupt the path to CSEC. Evidence suggests it is possible to train adults to successfully prevent and intervene in child sexual abuse.
  • Many victims of CSEC live at home and attend school. In the U.S., there are many children who are sexually exploited by their families or family friends for monetary gain, but still live at home. Despite the exploitation, these children still interact with educators, youth-serving professionals, and the public. Training community members, educators, and youth-serving professionals to recognize the signs and intervene in sexual abuse and exploitation will help thwart the progression of commercial exploitation for some children, and will ensure that these victims receive services.

Darkness to Light offers a packaged program to prevent and intervene in CSEC. It includes Darkness to Light’s two-hour Stewards of Children® training, as well as an additional specific module about CSEC. It is available in both an online and facilitator-led format.

Trafficking – 70-90%

70 – 90%

were sexually abused in a non-commercial manner first

Trafficking – 32 Billion


yearly in human trafficking in the US alone

Trafficking – Global Profits


yearly profits globally from child pornography