The Problem

Sex Trafficking

The average age a child sex trafficking victim is reported missing

(National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)

States have reported cases of sex trafficking

(National Human Trafficking Hotline) 

Cases of sex trafficking were reported in Virginia in 2019

(National Human Trafficking Hotline)

What is sex trafficking?

Simply put, sex trafficking is forcing, tricking, or manipulating a person to have sex for the monetary gain of someone else.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000–a federal law to protect victims of trafficking and prosecute their traffickers–defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. 

By federal definition, there is no such thing as a child prostitute. Anyone under the age of 18 who engages in a commercial sex act is a victim of trafficking–regardless of the use of force, fraud, or coercion. A child cannot legally consent to having sex. 

Where does it happen?

Although sex trafficking is typically portrayed as only happening in large cities and developing countries, America is the number one consumer of sex worldwide.  


There are an estimated 4.8 million victims currently being sexually exploited worldwide. (International Labor Organization, 2016) The commercial sex trade generates $99 billion annually. 


Sex trafficking has been reported in every state. The National Human Trafficking Hotline confirmed nearly 10,000 cases of sex trafficking in the US in 2019 alone. 


Virginia ranks 16th in the nation for the number of human trafficking cases. In 2019, the National Hotline confirmed 137 cases of sex trafficking. Virginia was the last state in our country to criminalize sex trafficking. In 2015, Virginia finally made it illegal to recruit and sell someone for sex. 

How does it happen?

Contrary to what we see in the movies and media, the trafficker is usually someone the victim knows and trusts. 

Traffickers are known to pose as a romantic partner, friend, or employers. Some are even family members. In fact, 41% of child trafficking cases begin with some family member involvement. 

Most exploiters use a simple but effective method to groom their victims. 

1. Identify and Meet the Need: A trafficker often begins by identifying a person’s vulnerability and meeting his or her needs. This could look like offering drugs or a place to stay, paying for a meal, promising a better life, or showing attention and affection.

2. Isolate: Slowly, the trafficker will isolate the victim, drawing them away from safe, caring people. The relationship is kept a secret to people who might intervene. 

3. Exploit: Because the trafficker has become the only source of need fulfillment for the victim, the trafficker is then easily able to exploit the victim’s dependency on him or her. Many times, victims view this simply as a relationship and don’t realize until later that their trafficker is doing this to others simultaneously.

4. Maintain Control: Once the trafficker has sexually exploited the victim, they will maintain control by using fear, violence, isolation, manipulation, and threats. Often times traffickers take away important possessions, like cellphones and identification documents. The trafficker may intentionally get the victim using drugs. The cycle of abuse continues, and the victim is left feeling trapped–physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Who is most vulnerable to sex trafficking?
While anyone can become a victim of sex trafficking, research shows that traffickers often target people with increased vulnerabilities, including:

1 in 4 victims of human trafficking are children (International Labor Organization). Research shows that most victims enter the sex trade before they are 18 years old. (World Without Exploitation, 2017) 

History of Homelessness and/or Running Away
Of the more than 23,500 endangered runaways reported in 2019, one in sixwere likely victims of child sex trafficking. (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) 

History of Physical and/or Sexual Abuse
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday (Center for Disease Control). Up to 84% of those in the sex trade were abused as children (World Without Exploitation, 2017) 

A New York City study estimated that more than 1 in 4 homeless LGBTQ children, and nearly half of gay or bisexual boys, are victims of commercial sexually exploitation 

Involvement in the Child Welfare System and Foster Care
Studies consistently report that 50-90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2017) 

People of Color and Marginalized Communities 
Not only are people of color more vulnerable to trafficking, but statistically, black women and girls are often seen as prostitutes and met with the justice system instead of being identified as victims (Rights 4 Girls). 

Refugee and Immigrants
Instability, culture shock, and lack of support make immigrants and refugees more susceptible to becoming trafficked 

Background of Family Dysfunction 
Exploiters often target children with instable homes or those who lack a strong support system and healthy relationships  

Poverty or Low Socioeconomic Status
People who do not have their physical needs met are more likely to be coerced by a trafficker or forced to engage in survival sex to provide for themselves and/or their families 

Exposure and/or Use of Drugs or Alcohol
Some traffickers purposely supply drugs or alcohol to vulnerable people to break down their resistance and coerce them into forced sex acts 

Would you recognize sex trafficking if you saw it?

Do you suspect someone is being sexually exploited or trafficked? 

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888