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Human trafficking affects the most vulnerable in our society: children.

No matter where you live, chances are child sex trafficking is happening nearby. Sex trafficking, a type of human trafficking, is when someone is traded for the purpose of sexual slavery or commercial sexual exploitation. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, and 5.4 million of them are children.1

Some victims are sold for sex by their parents or family members, some are lured with false promises of jobs, and some are romantically involved with someone who exploits them. Traffickers generate hundreds of billions of dollars globally each year.

What is commercial sexual exploitation of children?

Sex trafficking includes the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and happens when someone buys, trades, or sells sexual acts with a child. Essentially, it is the exchange of any sex act with a minor for something of value. Under U.S. law, anyone under the age of 18 years that participates in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking—whether or not the trafficker forced, defrauded, or coerced them. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 1 out of 6 runaways reported missing in 2020 are likely child trafficking victims.

Although all children (of any age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or economic status) can be at risk for trafficking, national data shows those at the highest risk for victimization are often:

  • Females
  • Kids in the welfare system
  • Kids from low income communities
  • LGBTQ+ Kids
  • Homeless Kids
  • Kids who have previously experienced any form of trauma

“While any child can be targeted by a trafficker, research, data and survivor lived experience and expertise have revealed traffickers and buyers often target youth who lack strong support networks, have experienced violence in the past, are experiencing homelessness, or are marginalized by society.”

–The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children


What can we do about it?

Often, CSEC is viewed differently than child sexual abuse. However, CSEC is actually a form of child sexual abuse. Approximately 70-90% of sexually trafficked kids were sexually abused in a non-commercial manner prior to being trafficked.3 This link shows that if we can prevent or intervene early in child sexual abuse, we can interrupt the path to CSEC. Just like with non-commercial abuse, understanding the signs and knowing how to react responsibly is key to making a difference in the life of a child trafficking victim.

Prevent Child Trafficking

Preventing CSEC is possible through adult education. Many victims of child trafficking live at home and attend school. Despite the exploitation, these children still interact with educators, youth-serving professionals, doctors, and the public every day. Training neighbors, teachers, and youth-serving professionals to recognize the signs and intervene can help end commercial exploitation for some children. It will also help ensure that these victims receive services they need.

Darkness to Light’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children training  teaches adults about the root cause of commercial exploitation and how preventing sexual abuse can help reduce the risk of child sex trafficking. This training is an hour and can be taken online or in-person. 

1. Polaris Project
2. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
3. National Institute of Justice. (2007) Commercial sexual exploitation of children: What do we know and what do we do about it? (Publication NCJ 215733). US Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs.

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