Trafficking in Urban, Suburban, and Rural Areas

Labor trafficking of minors occurs everywhere—in restaurants, factories, and construction sites; in traveling peddling operations that move from town to town; and in farms, orchards, and other agricultural settings. However, little research has been conducted on how sex trafficking of minors differs across urban, suburban, and rural communities. A 2014 study found more similarities than differences in child sex trafficking across the types of settings. Minors in all cases tended to have the same risk factors: poverty, instability, compromised parenting, and substance abuse within the family. Instead, differences between the settings were found primarily in the views of child welfare and youth-service professionals, who in rural areas are less likely to believe trafficking is a serious problem or be trained in identifying and treating trafficking victims.35

Far from being immune to trafficking, rural places have characteristics that can make trafficking both harder to recognize and address. In rural areas, long distances between homes doesn’t guarantee safety but does mean that services and supports to victims may be less accessible. Rural poverty and fewer jobs can make young people and their families more willing to trade sex for money or drugs, and in small close-knit communities, traffickers may be familiar faces, making disclosure of abuse especially complicated.36 At the same time, traffickers can find small cities and towns attractive places to operate, given that residents and even local enforcement may tend to underestimate the threat of trafficking.

  1. Cole, J., & Sprang, G. (2015). Sex trafficking of minors in metropolitan, micropolitan, and rural communities. Child Abuse & Neglect, 40, 113–123.
  2. Occhiboi, A. (2015, July 9). Trafficking in rural America. Love 146.