Risk Factors

Although there is no standard profile of a child trafficking victim, several risk factors make certain children more susceptible (see Figure 1).32 Researchers have found that sex traffickers often target children and youth with a history of maltreatment, sexual abuse, low self-esteem, and minimal social support. Children and youth at risk of labor trafficking share many of the same risk factors; children who have recently migrated or relocated are at a heightened risk. It is important to remember that absence of these risk factors does not mean any particular child is not being trafficked. No two cases are precisely alike, and school staff should work hard to overcome any stereotypes they may harbor about the appearance of victims or traffickers. Risk factors common to both groups are in the middle column.

Figure 1. Risk Factors for Child Sex and Labor Trafficking

A VENN diagram showing a circle with Sex Trafficking ont he left, a circle with Labor Trafficking on the right, and an area of overlap in the middle.
  • History of childhood physical or sexual abuse
  • Mental health issues or disorders
  • Academically off-track
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Has run away from home more than once
  • Family rejection related to identifying as LGBTQ
  • Lives in a shelter or group home
  • Uses drugs or involved with romantic partners who do
  • Family members who have bought sex or been trafficked
  • Parents who abuse drugs
  • Lives in an area with a large influx of cash-rich workers or tourists
  • History of arrests for juvenile status offenses, such as truancy or underage possession of alcohol
  • Current or past involvement in the child welfare system
  • History of running from out-of-home care
  • Lack of social support
  • Poverty
  • Learning disabilities or developmental delay
  • High number of adverse childhood experiences
  • Family dysfunction or instability
  • Current runaway or homeless status
  • Involved with or targeted by gangs
  • Recent migration or relocation
  • Member of marginalized or disadvantaged community
  • Undocumented or unstable immigration status
  • Unaccompanied minor
  • Physical disability

  1. Polaris Project. (2019). Child trafficking and the child welfare system. Polaris Project. https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Child-Welfare-Fact-Sheet.pdf; Sprang, G., & Cole, J. (2018). Familial sex trafficking of minors: Trafficking conditions, clinical presentation, and system involvement. Journal of Family Violence, 33, 185–195. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10896-018-9950-y; NCAI Policy Research Center. (2016). Human & sex trafficking: Trends and responses across Indian country. Tribal Insights Brief. NCAI Policy Research Center. https://www.ncai.org/policy-research-center/research-data/prc-publications/TraffickingBrief.pdf; Franchino-Olsen, H. (2019). Vulnerabilities relevant for commercial sexual exploitation of children/ domestic minor sex trafficking: A systematic review of risk factors. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1177/1524838018821956; National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. (2020). Child sex trafficking identification resource. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. https://www.missingkids.org/content/dam/missingkids/pdfs/CST%20Identification%20Resource.pdf; Roe-Sepowitz, D., Bracy, K., & Hogan, K. (2020). Youth experiences survey: Exploring the human trafficking of homeless young adults in Arizona, year 6. Trust. https://trustaz.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/rr-youth-experiences-survey-stir-2019-yes-report.pdf; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Family and Youth Services Bureau. (2019). Human trafficking for runaway and homeless youth serving programs: A resource guide. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.rhyttac.net/assets/docs/Resources/HumanTraffickingResourceGuide-508.pdf; Gibbs, D. A., Feinberg, R. K., Dolan, M., Latzman, N. E., Misra, S., & Domanico, R. (2018). Report to Congress: The child welfare system response to sex trafficking of children. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cb/report_congress_child_trafficking.pdf