What is child trafficking?

Child trafficking is a crime involving the movement of a minor to exploit them for financial gain through sexual exploitation or labor. It is considered trafficking even when the minor was moved voluntarily. Movement of the minor within or across borders increases their vulnerability due to unfamiliarity and distance from contacts or resources. Child Trafficker is someone who contributed to the trafficking, knowing that their actions were likely to lead to the exploitation of the child. This includes recruiters, intermediaries, transporters, etc. Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is sexually abusing a minor for financial gain through commercial sex acts including child pornography. Survival Sex occurs when a minor exchanges sex for food, shelter, or other goods. Homelessness, especially on the street, is a huge risk factor for minors.

What is the scope of the problem?

Human trafficking is a huge criminal enterprise with an annual revenue of $32 billion worldwide and U.S. revenues between $39.9 million and $290 million per year, depending on the city. Human trafficking figures estimate that 33% of the victims are children with incidents recorded in over 152 countries. Scientifically reliable estimates on the the full scope of child trafficking are lacking due to differing definitions, the lack of a common database, small sample sizes, issues in victim ID, victim reluctance to self-identify, and victim fear of authorities and retaliation. The International Labour Organization estimates there are 4.5 million victims of forced sexual exploitation worldwide. Most experts agree that current figures likely under estimate the true number, with male victims being seriously underrepresented. Due largely to increased awareness, U.S. trafficking reports increase every year. In Texas alone, researchers identified 79,000 youth and minor victims of sex trafficking. What is clear is that child trafficking is pervasive both in the U.S. and worldwide.

What is the cost?

The health issues that result from child sex trafficking are extensive. Victims are at high risk for injuries, assault, infectious diseases such as HIV and STIs, substance abuse, untreated chronic medical issues, dental disease, malnutrition, homicide, major depression, PTSD, and suicide. The most immediate needs of survivors include shelter, safety, food, and clothing. Survivors also require social services, including health care, trauma counseling, educational attainment, job training and legal assistance. In Texas, about $6.5 billion is spent on the lifetime care cost for victims. These costs include law enforcement and social services such as health care costs. 

Who does child trafficking affect?

It is estimated that 83% of U.S. sex trafficking victims are U.S. citizens. The average victim age is estimated to be 15 years old, with some as young as 5 years old. About 26% of victims are Caucasian and 40% are African American. Victims hail from every economic sector and cultural group, but those in poverty are disproportionately affected. The highest risk communities are homeless individuals, youth in the foster care system, and youth who have been abused. In Texas, the victimization rate for children that have been abused, homeless children, and children served by DFPS is about 25%.

What are the risk factors and contributing factors?

Individual FactorsInterpersonal FactorsCommunity/Organizational FactorsSocietal/Cultural Factors
• Young age (11-14): Immature brain development and limited life experience increases risk-taking behavior and impulsivity.
• Lack of awareness of trafficking indicators and resources for help.
• Homeless, runaway, thrown-away (LGBT) youth and youth with a history with police, foster care, CPS
• History of child physical or sexual abuse, neglect, early exposure to violence, and family dysfunction. These lead to increased risk-taking behavior, altered emotional development, and inappropriate sexual boundaries. About 70-90% of those involved in commercial sex have a history of abuse, especially sexual abuse.
• Unhealthy relationships and adverse childhood experiences resulting in low self-esteem, a high need for affection, and inappropriate sexual boundaries.
• Feel unloved/need for affection/desire for family and belonging. 77% of victims said their trafficker gave them the love they were searching for.
• Onjectification, view of self as sex object.
• Instrumental attitudes towards sex as primarily physical or casual rather than affectionate or relational.
• Frequent use of social media, online games and dating websites.
• Belief that the internet is a safe place to meet people.
• Engagement in risky sexual online behavior
• Substance use
• Gang association
• School problems: behavioral, truancy, absenteeism
• Mistrust of authorities and professionals
• Financial insecurity/perceived lack of viable economic alternatives
• Belief that commercial sex is quick, easy money
• Family dysfunction
• Lack of supportive home
• Family attitudes towards sex
• Social pressure normalizing purchasing of sex
• Peer pressure from “friends” who are involved in trafficking
• Having friends who have purchased sex or have been involved in sex work
• Family members in sex work
• Intimate partner who is involved in trafficking
• Peer norms perceived to be supportive of risky sexual online behavior
• Areas of high transient male population (convention centers, sporting events, military bases, truck stops)
• Areas of raw material extraction (large influx of workers and other individuals, some of whom will create a demand for the commercial sex industry)
• Under-resourced local youth services
• Lack of school engagement
• Lack of culturally sensitive mental health services
• Lack of training amongst investigators, prosecutors, healthcare professionals, educators
• Lack of detection training amongst business employees (hotels/motels, bars, clubs, restaurants, airlines, etc.)
• Gang presence
• An overburdened CPS system
• Misidentification of youth as criminals
• Lack of connectedness amongst public and private sectors and communities
• Lack of awareness of child trafficking as a local, domestic issue
• High demand
• High profitability
• Perceived low risk of punishment for traffickers and buyers
• Dismissal of trafficking as a public health issue
• Victim reluctance to testify
• Lack of legal precedents and case law
• Lack of institutional infrastructure
• Objectification of women and girls
• Gender inequality, bias and discrimination
• Cultural disenfranchisement
• Acceptance of rape myths, child abuse myths and prostitution myths
• Victim blaming
• Glamorization of pimp culture
• Stigma
• Negative reaction to disclosure
• Low societal support for victims
• Online subculture of acceptance of sex buyers as the norm
• Myth of economic reciprocity
• Internet availability
• Preference for and glamorization of nonrelational, instrumental sex

How do traffickers recruit their victims?

Traffickers target victims online through social media websites and apps, at local places like shopping malls and bus depots, in clubs, and through friends, current victims or acquaintances who recruit students on and off school campuses. When a trafficker chooses a victim, they engage in a process called “grooming”. Grooming is when a trafficker builds an emotional connection with a minor to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Groomers can be any ethnicity, age or gender, but traffickers often use a groomer who is about 5 years older than the victim. A trafficker gets to know the minor, identifying vulnerabilities, befriending them & establishing trust. They then make promises to address needs, feign romantic interest, give gifts, introduce drugs/alcohol, and isolate from family & friends. Traffickers relate to the victims’ desire for family and belonging. They earn victims’ trust by making them feel loved and promising to care for them. 

How do I identify a victim?

Many minors rarely identify as victims. They typically describe their trafficker as someone who cares for them more than anyone else ever has. Below are some red flags that may indicate a trafficking victim. The presence of these red flags does not always mean the child is a trafficking victim, but they do serve as clues.

  • Has a controlling “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” who is noticeably older
  • Inability to speak to individual alone
  • Individual cannot freely move about
  • Individual avoids eye contact when addressed
  • Doesn’t respond to questions or responses appear coached and rehearsed
  • Signs of physical abuse, hunger, sleep deprivation or drug addiction
  • Bruises in various states of healing. May attempt to conceal injuries.
  • Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
  • Acts uncharacteristically promiscuous and/or makes references to sexual situations
  • Signs of depression, anxiety & nervousness
  • Fearful and withdrawn
  • Name tattoos or other branding marks
  • Hotel keys and keycards in their possession
  • Prepaid cell phone
  • Lies about age or possesses fake ID
  • Unable or unwilling to give information about parents/guardian
  • Changes in school performance, attendance, hygiene habits, personality, friendships, or possessions

How can I help?

About 80% of victims reported that they wanted help while they were being trafficked at some point. If you think you may have identified a victim, the first thing to do is to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1.888.373.7888. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911. Never try to intervene in a situation by yourself. Always follow protocol and call the Human Trafficking Hotline.

Remember that many minors do not consider themselves to be victims, and may even consider their current situation an improvement over their life before trafficking. This may lead victims to want to protect their trafficker, and even view the trafficker as a romantic figure or a father figure. In addition, minors tend to have poor memory recall and a warped sense of time due to trauma. Many fear retribution and have an underlying distrust of authority, so they may refuse to provide information or provide false information. When working with a potential victim, avoid judgmental reactions, avoid interrupting, and remain calm, focused and respectful. Do not ask a barrage of questions. Give control of the conversation to the child and reassure them that they are not to blame. Focus on the child’s strength in confiding in you and offer to pause if the child begins to feel stressed.

What are potential solutions to the problem?

While victim services are important, prevention is critical in order to bring child trafficking to an end. Families, communities, and young people need to be aware of trafficking red flags and know how to safely respond. To prevent victimization, young people must be aware of how traffickers recruit and gain skills to resist. We also must address youth homelessness and viable economic opportunities for high-risk youth, such as those who have been in the juvenile justice system and dysfunctional families. Finally, we must prevent our youth from becoming future victims and buyers. According to men who purchased sex, most agreed that greater criminal penalties such as large fines or jail time would deter them, but they were not convinced that the laws would be enforced by police or politicians. Legal consequences could be very effective in deterring buyers, but the buyers must believe that the likelihood of enforcement is high.

Unite to Change the Facts


1) Greenbaum J, Crawford-Jakubiak JE, Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, COMMITTEE ON CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT. Child sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation: health care needs of victims. Pediatrics. 2015;135:566-574.

2) Estes RJ, Weiner NA. The commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Philadelphia, PA; Center for the Study of Youth Policy, University of Pennsylvania; 2001

3) Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. Confronting commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2013

4) Smith L, Vardaman S, Snow M. The national report on domestic minor sex trafficking: America’s prostituted children. Vancouver, WA: Shared Hope International (SHI); 2009. Available at: http://sharedhope.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/SHI_National_Report_on_DMST_2009.pdf. Accessed July 7, 2013

5) Banks, D., Kyckelhahn, T. Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010. April 2011. U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cshti0810.pdf

6) United States Department of State. Trafficking in persons report 2013. Washington, DC: US Department of State; 2013. Available at: www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2013/. Accessed July 1, 2013

7) United States Department of State. Trafficking in persons report. Washington, DC: US Department of State; 2014. Available at: http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2014/?utm_source=NEW+RESOURCE:+Trafficking+in+Persons+R. Accessed July 18, 2014

8) American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. The commercial sexual exploitation of children: The medical provider’s role in identification, assessment and treatment: APSAC practice guidelines. Chicago, IL: APSAC; 2013. Available at: www.kyaap.org/wp-content/uploads/APSAC_Guidelines.pdf. Accessed July 7, 2013

9) International Labor Organization. Global estimate of forced labour: Executive summary (2012) Available at: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—declaration/documents/publication/wcms_181953.pdf〉 (accessed Dec 23, 2014)

10) Curtis, R., Terry, K., Dank, M., Dombrowski, K., & Khan, B. (2008). The commercial sexual exploitation of children in New York City: Volume 1: The CSEC population in New York City: Size, characteristics and needs. National Institute of Justice, US Department of Justice

11) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Global report on trafficking in persons 2012. Vienna, Austria: UNODC; 2012. Available at: www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/Trafficking_in_Persons_2012_web.pdf. Accessed July 7, 2013

12) United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Global report on trafficking in persons. Vienna, Austria: UNODC; 2014. Available at: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/data-and-analysis/glotip.html. Accessed November 30, 2014

13) Zimmerman, C., Yun, K., Shvab, I., Watts, C., Trappolin, L., & Treppete, M. et al. (2003). The health risks and consequences of trafficking in women and adolescents: Findings from a European study. London: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

14) Cunningham KC, Cromer LD. Attitudes About Human Trafficking: Individual Differences Related to Belief and Victim Blame. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2016;31:228-244.

15) Macias Konstantopoulos W, Ahn R, Alpert EJ, et al. An International Comparative Public Health Analysis of Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Eight Cities: Achieving a More Effective Health Sector Response. Journal of Urban Health. 2013;90:1194-1204.

16) Busch-Armendariz, N., Nale, N., Kammer-Kerwick, M., Kellison, B., Torres, M., Heffron, L., Nehme, J. Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Initial Benchmark of Prevalence and Economic Impact for Texas. December 2016. University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. http://sites.utexas.edu/idvsa/files/2017/02/Human-Trafficking-by-the-Numbers-2016.pdf

17) Fedina, L., Williamson, C., & Perdue, T. (2016). Risk factors for domestic child sex trafficking in the United States. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0886260516662306

18) Sex Trafficking as a Capitalistic System. Sept. 4, 2017. Dark Bali. Retrieved from: http://www.darkbali.org/sex-trafficking-capitalist-system-part-2/

19)  “Nordic Model.” Scandinavian Human Rights Lawyers. Accessed August 14, 2017. http://humanrightslawyers.eu/human-trafficking/nordic-model/.

20) Jakobsson, Niklas, and Andreas Kotsadam. The Law and Economics of International Sex Slavery: Prostitution Laws and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation . Working paper no. 458. School of Business, Economics, and Law, University of Gothenburg. 2013.

21) Bouche, Vanessa. TCU Department of Political Science. Report on the Use of Technology to Recruit, Groom and Sell Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Victims, Thorn, 2015.

22) Dank, M., et al. (2014). Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major US Cities. The Urban Institute. Retrieved from http://www.urban.org/research/ publication/estimating-size-and-structure-underground-commercial-sex-economy-eight-major-us-cities.

23) Farley, M., Macleod, J., Anderson, L., & Golding, J. M. (2011, March 28). Attitudes and Social Characteristics of Men Who Buy Sex in Scotland. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0022645

24) Busch, N. B., Bell, H., Hotaling, N., & Monto, M. A. (2002). Male customers of prostituted women: Exploring perceptions of entitlement to power and control and implications for violent behavior toward women. Violence Against Women, 8(9), 1093–1112.

25) Farley, M. (2007). Prostitution and trafficking in Nevada: Making the connections. San Francisco: Prostitution Research and Education.

26) Monto, M. A. (2000). Why men seek out prostitutes. In R. Weitzer (Ed.), Sex for sale: Prostitution, pornography, and the sex industry (pp. 67– 83). New York: Routledge.

27)  Matthews, R. (2008). Prostitution, politics, and policy. Abingdon, UK: Routledge-Cavendish.

28) Groom, T. M., & Nandwani, R. (2006). Characteristics of men who pay for sex: A UK sexual health clinic survey. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 82, 364–367.

29) Blevins, K. R., & Holt, T. J. (2009). Examining the virtual subculture of johns. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 38(5), 619–648.

30) U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Blue Campaign: What is Human Trafficking? 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/what-human-trafficking

31) The programme Towards the Elimination of the worst forms of Child Labour (TECL) of International Labour Organisation, Pretoria, after engagement with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and International Organisation for Migration. Note on the Definition of Child Trafficking. 1 March, 2007. UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/southafrica/SAF_pressrelease_notetrafficking.pdf

32) Varma S, Gillespie S, McCracken C, Greenbaum VJ. Characteristics of child commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking victims presenting for medical care in the United States. Child abuse & neglect. 2015;44:98-105.

33) Susanne E. Baumgartner, Patti M. Valkenburg, Prof., and Jochen Peter, Prof.. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. December 2011, 14(12): 753-758. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0510.

34) Owens EW, Behun RJ, Manning JC, Reid RC (2012) The impact of Internet pornography on adolescents: A review of the research. Sex Addict Compulsivity 19: 99–122. doi: 10.1080/10720162.2012.660431

35) Kimberly Kotrla and Beth Ann Wommack, “Sex Trafficking of Minors in the U.S.: Implications for Policy, Prevention and Research,” Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for Children at Risk 2 (1) (2011): 4, available at http:// digitalcommons.library.tmc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article =1012&context=childrenatrisk

36) Amanda Walker-Rodrigues and Rodney Hill, “Human Sex Trafficking,” available at http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/ publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march_2011/human_sex_trafficking (last accessed March 2014).

37) Clawson, H., Dutch, N. ADDRESSING THE NEEDS OF VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING: CHALLENGES, BARRIERS, AND PROMISING PRACTICES. August 2008.U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Washington, DC.


by Cyndi Borselino

What motivated me to share my story with my daughter was from the healing I received and realizing past generations of secrets and lies.  I did not want this to go the next generation.  I wanted to see it stop here and now.  I realized the only way for it to stop was to be fully naked and unashamed from my past experiences, which means I need to be transparent especially to my family.  All things hidden in darkness brought to the light, which is what I read in scripture and really felt the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit was teaching me His living word, coming alive in me.  Bringing darkness to the light means you talk about it and release it, not keeping it hidden inside as a secret filled with guilt, shame, condemnation, unworthiness and so much more.

The truth is I never really felt alive.  I use to describe my life as living inside a glass box where I could see out but could never feel anything at all.  Lack of emotional trust.  I believed I had no soul.  I believed I was created for evil and for men’s pleasure.  I didn’t believe I had a right to feel anything not even anger.  I had self loathng, self hatred.

I still look back and am amazed at how I got out alive.  I was living in a home in Florida, prostituting, getting high and drank daily.  I was only 16 at the time and then turned 17 while living in this lifestyle.  The manager who took care of the property and lived there as well, grabbed me one day and threw my stuff in his suitcase and kept telling me to trust him.  He drove me 2 hours on the highway and dropped me off and told me to never come back for I was in process of getting sold and he told me I wouldn’t get out alive.  I never looked back and I ended up in Albuquerque NM and got a job as a waitress and met an older gentleman who would tell me stories, stories of redemption.  I met Jesus Christ in a powerful encounter at a church service and was amazed that someone could love me even after everything I had done.  I went back to my home town and thought I could save all my family, but instead I ended back in drugs and getting pulled into a scheme from an older man who was creating a prostitution ring in Chicago.  I barely got out alive.  I was shot at. and I told the man when I realized what he was doing that he was from the devil.  He tried to kill me, after that.  I told the Lord if he got me out alive I would follow Him and give up everything for Him.  I did get out alive and went to see my Aunt and Uncle who I knew were Christians.  They led me to a group called “Kings Kids”.  I went and lived there for a year and walked through healing where drug addiction no longer was a problem.  My identity was still in “sex” though and I got in an abusive relationship after I left the group home, but the Lord was still with me and opening doors for me – such as I got an amazing job even though I had no high school diploma let alone a college degree.  I would go to church and pray about the man I was with (who was going to church and a Christian), the Lord said I was not to be with him yet I still felt trapped and unworthy of anything good.  Then I was offered a job transfer to upstate NY.  I felt the Lord opened a way of escape for me again.  So I definitely took it.  Which is where I met my current husband.  He is like Hosea in the bible!  He never even smoked a cigarette let alone pot, he wasn’t a partier or even had a girlfriend other than one for a month.  He had a job at IBM and was a computer programmer.  The Lord told me I was going to marry him on our second date.  I was shocked because he was nothing like anyone I had ever met before.  I wrote a song for him – Please don’t walk away from me it’s not what you think,   it’s just that I have a pain inside that needs to be set free please help me.  I don’t mean to compare you to what I used to know, please be patient, I’m only human but soon I will let go.  I must live for today, You’re a chance  I must take. I’ve got to live for today. With you by my side, this fear I will shake.