Human Trafficking & Exploitation

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The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), as amended (22 U.S.C. § 7102), defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as:

  • Sex trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; (and)
  • Labor trafficking: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

The legal meaning of human and child trafficking may sound complicated, but at its core, human trafficking is a public health issue that impacts individuals, families, and communities. Trafficking is child abuse, and the vulnerable are often targeted for exploitation. Traffickers disproportionately target at-risk populations including individuals who have experienced or been exposed to other forms of violence (child abuse and maltreatment, interpersonal violence and sexual assault, community and gang violence) and individuals disconnected from stable support networks (runaway and homeless youth, unaccompanied minors, persons displaced during natural disasters).

sad woman bent over - how are victims trafficked


Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to subject victims to engage in commercial sex or forced labor. Anyone can be a victim of trafficking anywhere, including in the United States. At-risk and marginalized children and youth are susceptible and defenseless targets for exploitation.

Human trafficking can be compared to a modern-day form of slavery. It involves the exploitation of people, including children, through force, coercion, threat, and deception and includes human rights abuses such as debt bondage, deprivation of liberty, and lack of control over freedom and labor.

Trafficking can be for purposes of sexual exploitation or labor exploitation. Sexual exploitation includes forcing an individual to engage in commercial sex acts, including prostitution or the production of pornography. The types of labor exploitation include domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, sweatshop factory work, and migrant agricultural work. Victims of trafficking can include adults and minors as well as both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.


The statistics of human trafficking in the United States, and child exploitation specifically, are alarming. Cases of child trafficking are prevalent and are often tied to other forms of child maltreatment.

  • Since 2007, more than 31,600 TOTAL CASES OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING concerning more than 34,000 victims have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. 1
  • In 2016, more than 2,300 children were reported as victims to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
  • Average age of entry by a child prostitute: 13 years
  • Life expectancy after becoming a prostitute:  7 years
  • 57% of prostitutes were sexually abused as children
  • The National Human Trafficking Hotline annually receives multiple reports of human trafficking cases in each of the 50 states and D.C. 
  • The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives an average of 100 calls per day. 
  • Since 2013, the Polaris BeFree Textline has received over 4,400 texts with 563 total cases reported.  Over 50% of the cases have involved a minor.
  • In 2016, an estimated 1 out of every 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. Of those, 86% were in social services or foster care when they ran away.
  • More than 12.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation have been made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline between 1998 and June 2016.


  • According to reports, 70 percent to 90 percent of commercially sexually exploited youth have a history of child sexual abuse. 
  • Children who experience sexual abuse are 28 times more likely to be arrested for prostitution at some point in their lives than children who did not. 
  • Youth who have experienced dating violence and rape are at higher-risk for trafficking. Traffickers prey especially on children and youth with low self-esteem and minimal social support. 
  • A 2011 bulletin from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) cites an estimate (Estes & Weiner, 2001) that 293,000 youth are at risk for being trafficked in North America because they live on the streets or in particularly vulnerable situations. 
  • Human trafficking cases occur across the country, in rural, urban, and suburban settings and in a wide range of industries, as described in the 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report. 
  • Recruitment of young people for trafficking commonly takes place in public places (e.g., around shopping malls, bus stops, or fast-food restaurants), around youth shelters where runaway and homeless youth are easily targeted, and in the vicinity of schools and group homes where children served by the child welfare system can be found. 


While the true prevalence of sex and labor trafficking is unknown, most service providers believe that these statistics are underestimated. Challenges in identifying victims, collecting and cross-referencing data, and deciding on common definitions contribute to a lack of accurate statistics. In addition, many youth do not see themselves as victims or they may be reluctant to admit to victimization due to fears of deportation, jail, and sometimes deadly retribution from traffickers. 


Several nonprofits are working to aid victims and end child trafficking. Report suspected cases and get resources through the organizations below.

National Human Trafficking Resource Center- child trafficking nonprofit

Phone: (888) 373-7888
SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Languages: English, Spanish & 200+ languages
Online Trafficking Resources:

National center missing exploited children - child trafficking nonprofit

Call: 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678)
to report child sexual exploitation.
Online Trafficking Resources:

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