Child Sex Trafficking

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Human Trafficking in America’s Schools: What Schools Can Do To Prevent, Respond, and Help Students To Recover from Human Trafficking, Second Edition

Child Sex Trafficking

Inducing a child under age 18 to perform a commercial sex act, with or without force, fraud, or coercion, is human trafficking. There are no exceptions. Children can never be responsible for or complicit in their own abuse. Sex trafficking can have devastating consequences for children, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, sexually transmitted infections, substance use disorders, unplanned pregnancy, and mental health problems, such as depression and suicidal ideation.2 While everyone experiences trauma differently, survivors’ stories share the common threads of manipulation and abuse.

A 15-year-old girl in Arizona attended a high school football game, where she met a friendly 20-year-old woman who began chatting with her. To the younger girl’s surprise, the 20-year-old ran across the street to buy her a phone so they could keep in touch. The catch?The girl would need to repay the newly acquired debt by giving men “massages” in motel rooms.

See Tools for Educators, developed by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, for examples of safety and trafficking assessment questions.

Children are trafficked by peers, family members, romantic partners, acquaintances, and strangers. Traffickers target children and adolescents for grooming, often over an extended period of time. Traffickers target vulnerable children, secure their trust, fulfill their needs, isolate them from potential support, and eventually exert total control over them, all the while working to normalize the abuse. Recruitment can and does occur everywhere—in school; at home, malls, sporting events, and parties; and in shelters and detention facilities—and is conducted both in person and online, where traffickers lure young people with the offer of friendship, romance, or jobs.3 When the trafficker has established sufficient control, children are sold at private parties, illicit massage businesses, hotel and motel rooms, strip clubs, trade shows, truck stops, and other venues.4 Sex trafficking is inherently traumatic; at a minimum, survivors require educational and therapeutic aftercare services that are trauma informed.5


  1. Fedina, L., Williamson, C., & Perdue, T. (2019). Risk factors for domestic child sex trafficking in the United States. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 34(13), 2653–2673. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260516662306
  2. Polaris Project. (2011). Educators and human trafficking: In-depth review. Polaris Project. https://humantraffickinghotline.org/sites/default/files/In%20Depth%20Review%20for%20Educators.pdf
  3. National Center for Homeless Education at SERVE. (2014). Sex trafficking of minors: What schools need to know to recognize and respond to the trafficking of students. National Center for Homeless Education at SERVE. https://nche.ed.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/trafficking.pdf
  4. For additional information on trauma-sensitive/trauma-informed schools, see the Trauma-Sensitive Schools Training Package developed under contract to the U.S. Department of Education by the National Center of Safe Supportive Learning Environments. https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/trauma-sensitive-schools-training-package

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