Child Sex Trafficking and Exploitation: Know the Dangers and Recognize the Behaviors

Human trafficking is a hot button topic in today’s world and with the use of technology and the internet, exploitation of children and others is at an all-time high. I had a conversation with a love one not too long ago about trafficking and their idea of human trafficking is the act of kidnapping kids and selling them overseas to the highest bidder. This is a common thought of many; however, it is not the most common way children are used and exploited. Sex trafficking is not just an overseas issue it’s happening right in our neighborhoods and cities.

Children are being exploited by pimps, parents, caregivers, boyfriends and girlfriends. Predators chose children because they are seen as easy targets due to their vulnerability. Many come from homes of neglect and may be runaways or considered throwaways. Being in the foster care system significantly increases the risk of sexual exploitation.

 It is estimated that 200,000–300,000 children have become victims of sexual exploitation in the US. However, research is very limited, and this number is just an estimate.

The average age of victims sold for sex is approximately 12-14 years old. Reports are demonstrating that children ages 10-11 are increasingly becoming targets for traffickers.

So let’s discuss the meaning of sex trafficking.

Child sex trafficking and exploitation is defined by the US Department of Justice as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a minor for the purpose of a commercial sex act.

The offenders manipulate and coerced a child in order to have them engage in sexual acts or have sexual acts performed on them in exchange for something the child desires such as love, affection, food, clothes, friendship or a place to sleep. Pimps and traffickers are known to visit sites where vulnerable child reside such as, group homes, homeless teens, shelters,

After developing trust in the relationship shortly afterward an offender engages the child into prostitution using rape, physical violence, emotional abuse and torture to ensure the child does not stray away from their intended purposes. Often these children are isolated from families and others as the abuser moves often or changes their physical appearance so that they are not recognized by those they know. Kids are often given a false sense of security when dealing with pimps, traffickers and other predators and are conditioned to remain loyal to the abuser by distrusting law enforcement or anyone else looking to interfere with their lives. 

Now with the advancement in technology and the Internet, children are exploited through websites and social media advertising. The internet provides a way to remain anonymous and also gives the abuser the opportunity to reach a greater audience and clientele. People can easily use the websites and social media to easily choose a child for which they want to have a sexual encounter with and pay with the click of a button with little chances of being caught. This increases the child’s risk of being exposed to many individuals and increases the risk of harm. 

There are behavioral and physical indicators that are suggestive of a child being exploited. According to the National Missing and Exploited Children, these behavioral and physical indicators include: 


  • Child has a significant change in behavior, including increased virtual behavior, or associates with a new group of friends
  • Child avoids answering questions or lets others speak for him or her
  • Child appears frightened, resistant, or belligerent to law enforcement 
  • Child lies about his or her age and identity
  • Child looks to others before answering questions
  • Child does not ask for help or resists offers to get out of the situation (child does not self-identify as a victim)
  • Child seems coached in talking to law enforcement
  • Child uses trafficking-related terms like “Trick,” “The Life,” or “The Game”
  • Child is preoccupied with “getting money” (e.g., displaying photos of cash)


  • Child has multiple cell phones and/or electronic devices
  • Child has large amounts of cash or pre-paid credit cards
  • Child has no ID, or ID is held by another person 
  • Multiple children are present with an unrelated male or female
  • Child has unusual/unexplained sexual paraphernalia (such as bulk condoms or lubrication) (More +)
  • There is evidence the child has been or will be traveling (child is living out of suitcases, at motels, or in a car)
  • Child has a name or symbol tattooed, burned, or branded onto his or her body, particularly when coupled with the child’s reluctance to explain the tattoo, the child’s tattoo matches other children’s tattoos, the tattoo indicates money or ownership (ex. MOB, barcode or $)
  • Child references traveling to other cities or states or is not from the current location; the child may also lack knowledge of his or her travel plans, destinations, and/or his or her current location.
  • Child has hotel keys, hotel receipts, or other items from a hotel/motel
  • Presence of an overly controlling or abusive “boyfriend” or older female
  • Child is recovered at a hotel, street track, truck stop, or strip club
  • Child has notebooks or slips of paper containing phone numbers, dollar amounts, names, or addresses
  • Child has items or an appearance that does not fit his or her current situation (e.g., a homeless or runaway child who has money, electronics, new clothes or shoes, and who has his or her hair and nails done)
  • Child references online classified ads or escort websites
  • Child references traveling job opportunities (including modeling, singing and/or dancing in a music group, or magazine sales crew)
  • Child has unaddressed medical issues or who goes to the ER or clinic alone, or with an unrelated adult.


Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. Confronting commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2013

U.S. Department of Justice retrieved from


To learn more on issues affecting children concerning sexual abuse and exploitation read the ebook,

 Your Child, Safe From Secrets: How to Protect Kids from Sexual Abuse and Manage the Aftermath

book cover picture

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