Trafficking Facts & Myths

Understanding Youth Trafficking: Facts & Myths


Where does trafficking happen?
Whether you live in the city or a rural area, trafficking maybe happening in your area—it may just look different. Although it can occur in a variety of contexts, vulnerable youth are often at the most risk. Many trafficked youth are also experiencing poverty, sexual, gender, or racial discrimination, or may have experienced some form of child abuse or neglect.
There is a misconception that trafficking only occurs on the streets under the control of a ‘pimp.’ However, the presence of a ‘pimp’ is not necessary for commercial sexual exploitation to occur, and in most cases, there is no pimp. Increasingly, young people are approached or lured online in social media spaces by someone pretending to be a friend or a peer, but who is really a buyer.
Is it true that Atlanta is #1 for sex trafficking?
According to the FBI, Atlanta is among 14 cities with the highest incidence of prostituted children. This statistic was released in a 2005 FBI report asserting, “Based upon an initial review of the available intelligence on child prostitution collected from ongoing investigations, human source information, information provided by numerous local and state law enforcement agencies, and the NCMEC, 14 FBI field offices were identified as having the highest incidence of children used in prostitution. The 14 FBI offices identified were: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa, and Washington, D.C.”
Note: This list was released in alphabetical order and because Atlanta starts with an “A”, the city was listed first. There were never any statistics released that said that Atlanta was #1 in the nation.
I've heard so many terms used. What is the appropriate language to talk about exploitation?
Many terms are used to refer to the human trafficking or sexual exploitation of children. It is very important to learn appropriate terms and language. Remember, no adult should ever ask a young person to have sex for food, money, or a place to stay. Even in situations where the young person seems to willingly participate, he or she is the victim and the trafficker is taking advantage (or exploiting) that young person.

Human Trafficking
This is an umbrella term that refers to the exploitation of a person for labor or sexual servitude. Trafficking can be considered domestic (happening in the United States) or international. Children, teens, or adults can be trafficked. When the person is under the age of 18 it does not matter if someone used force or lied to them, it is always considered exploitation and they should never be treated as a criminal.

Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST)
A subset of human trafficking, DMST refers to trafficking of lawful U.S. resident minors under age 18 for sexual servitude.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)
CSEC falls under the umbrella of human trafficking and refers to the sexual exploitation or trafficking of minors. A person has victimized a minor through CSEC if they ‘recruit, harbor, transport, provide or obtain a child under age 18’ to engage in a commercial sexual act.

Survival Sex
Survival sex is considered to be any sexual act exchanged for an extreme need, including sex for food, money, or shelter. Survival sex is by nature sexual exploitation. Being in extreme need for food, money, or shelter places the victim in a desperate situation, in which their ability to refuse trading sex for money is diminished.

Prostitute vs. Prostituted
We advocate against use of the term ‘child prostitute’ to refer to victims of child sex trafficking. The term prostitute has many negative connotations that tend to blame the victim, such as implying the person made a bad choice, or purposefully chose to be in the life. The term child prostitute does not offer any context for how a person comes to be victimized by trafficking, such as being hungry or being kicked out of one’s home. Further, it minimizes the inequality and power imbalance between the youth and the adult.
What does economics have to do with sexual exploitation?
Sexual exploitation is inherently transactional—which means there is an exchange of something of value (money, shelter, food) for sexual servitude. Fundamentally this is how sexual exploitation differs from other forms of sexual abuse. The transactional nature of sexual exploitation also means that it is subject to basic economic principles that affect its nature at both macro and micro-levels. Because sexual exploitation is transactional, it is a form of abuse that can be described and intervened on through economic frameworks.
What does a victim look like?
There is no singular victim profile. It can happen to anyone regardless of race, sexuality, location, or gender. There is a misconception that only girls are trafficked. However, it happens to boys too. In fact, because of gender norms, it may be more difficult for boys to tell others about trafficking experiences. Victims should never be ashamed. It is not their fault. Ever.
Sometimes those who have been trafficked may not self-identify as victims. This makes it difficult to help those who may be in need. However, this does not mean that he or she does not need help. Remember, there is no singular victim profile. Despite this, there are some similarities worth noting. Although these warning signs or red flags do not necessarily mean that exploitation is happening.
A victim may experience several of these or none at all:

  • Having a marginalized sexual, gender, or racial identity
  • Experiencing social and familial discrimination or rejection
  • Lack of stability in the home
  • Familial poverty
  • Repeat runaway history
  • A history of physical or sexual abuse
  • Emotional or mental trauma
  • Exposure to (or witness to) violence or drug abuse in the home
  • An obligation or desire to help family make ends meet
  • Peer, family, or media influences
  • Lack of adequate employment opportunities

A primary driver of youth engaging in survival sex is homelessness. Research has found that between 10{71bb150a2bc889730474e0d4d3c3934bdfc3cc805d65fba18ac3d426a1e1afd5} and 50{71bb150a2bc889730474e0d4d3c3934bdfc3cc805d65fba18ac3d426a1e1afd5} of runaway and homeless youth have engaged in survival sex.

Do people want to leave the sex trade?
The majority of youth want to stop trading sex immediate or in the near future. A major barrier to leaving the sex trade is finding meaningful economic opportunities. A second barrier is social support. Providing a place to build social support for sexually exploited youth is an important step in reducing trafficking

Research on Youth Exploitation and Sex Trafficking

Want more facts, not myths? Check out our annotated bibliography of trustworthy research studies on the topic of youth sex trafficking.