The term Human Trafficking is used by Department of Children and Families (DCF) as an umbrella term used to include two specific allegations of abuse: Human Trafficking – Sexually Exploited Child, and Human Trafficking – Labor. Victims of human trafficking include male and female children/youth involved in the sex trade who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and those forced into different forms of labor or services, such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor in exchange for shelter or threats of deportation (see Glossary for definitions).
An estimated 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. from around the world each year.
Approximately 244,000 American children and youth are estimated to be at risk of child sexual exploitation, including commercial sexual exploitation.*
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that there are 100,000 youths under the age of 18 already in the commercial sex trade in the U.S.*
When we talk about Human Trafficking-Sexually Exploited Child, children/youth can be sexually exploited in various places. Specific examples include:
- On the streets
- In a private residence, club, hotel, spa, or massage parlor
- Through exotic dancing/stripping clubs
Similarly, labor trafficking involving children/youth can occur in these industries:
- Agricultural, factory, or meatpacking work
- Domestic labor in a home (e.g., as a Nanny)
- Restaurant/bar work
- The illegal drug trade
- Door-to-door sales, street peddling, or begging
- Hair, nail, and beauty salons
Traffickers may target and groom minor victims through social media, websites, online gaming phone chatlines, after-school programs, at shopping malls and bus depots, in clubs, or through friends or acquaintances. As with child abuse and neglect, there are certain signs and vulnerabilities that children/youth exhibit when they are victims of human trafficking (these experiences are similar for male, female, and LGBTQ+ victims):
- History of emotional, sexual, or other physical abuse. Children and youth with such a background could fall prey to this form of victimization again.
- History of family domestic violence
- Family history of addictions
- Childhood sexual abuse
- Community violence
- Loss of loved ones
- Suicidality within the family
- Homelessness (particularly for LGBTQ+)
- Multiple foster care placements
- History of running away or current status as a runaway. Traffickers know runaways are in a vulnerable situation and target places such as shelters, malls, or bus stations frequented by such children/youth.
- Signs of current physical abuse and/or sexually transmitted diseases. Such signs are indicators of victimization, potentially sex trafficking.
- Inexplicable appearance of expensive gifts, clothing, or other costly items. 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 the attention may seem “flattering,” older boyfriends/girlfriends are not always the caring individuals they appear to be.
- Drug addiction. Pimps frequently 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 pimp, victims lose control of their personal lives.
- Gang involvement, especially among girls. Girls who are involved in gang activity can be forced into prostitution.
For male, female and LGBTQ+ victims these behavioral indicators are similar:
- Show signs of shame or disorientation
- Demonstrate an inability to attend school on a regular basis and/or have unexplained absences
- Make references to frequent travel to other cities
- Exhibit anxiety, fear, depression, eating disorders, or PTSD
- Exhibit oppositional or runaway behaviors, self-mutilation, suicide attempts
- Lack control over their schedule and/or identification or travel documents
- Be hungry, malnourished, sleep-deprived, or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
- Have coached or rehearsed responses to questions.*
Children who exhibit these physical and behavioral indicators, and any suspicion that they are being exploited, must be brought to the immediate attention of DCF. There is no need to know who is exploiting the child/youth – only that there is reasonable cause to believe that they are being exploited. Mandatory reporters are required to file a 51A for Human Trafficking.
Human Trafficking Hotline: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/
U.S. Department of Justice, Report to Congress from Attorney General John Ashcroft on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons in Fiscal Year 2003: 2004
U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of Safe and Healthy Students, Fact Sheet (2013) Human Trafficking of Children in the United States. (www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oese/oshs/factsheet.html).
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