Addressing child sex trafficking takes a very particular set of skills. However, depictions in films like Taken don’t hold up when we start talking about what sex trafficking actually looks like. Trafficking happens all around us. Child victims are often hidden away, but it is possible you will encounter individuals or situations of concern. Knowing how to vulnerabilities could save lives.
There are certainly victims being forcibly held against their will in the world, but most of the coercion into sex trafficking occurs over months and years, with controllers building trust and psychological leverage in order to exploit their victims.
While it can happen to anyone, there are some communities that are more vulnerable to becoming victims of child sex trafficking.
In this fight, knowledge is power.
Let’s bring the conversation into the light by looking at the communities most vulnerable to child sex trafficking. In doing so we can better address the issue, empower more victims to become survivors, and prevent vulnerable minors from becoming victims in the first place.
Child Welfare & Foster Care
Studies consistently report that 50-90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system, such as the foster care system. Instability with adult role models can create a void for children that a trafficker leverages to create trust and ultimately exploit their victims. Those who enter the foster system can be particularly vulnerable.
As one survivor put it: “Nobody wanted me. This set me up to be vulnerable and needy.” Those in foster care have often been removed from abusive or negligent settings, which immediately makes them highly vulnerable targets for predatory traffickers.
LGBTQ youth face higher rates of discrimination, violence, and economic instability than their non-LGBTQ peers. Family rejection, lack of support systems, and financial challenges each offer heightened opportunities for traffickers to step in and exploit LGBTQ+ youth. Traffickers can target these vulnerabilities to fill the role as a trusted adult, as well as offer perceived economic incentives that LGBTQ* youth may feel they won’t be offered elsewhere.
Add to the mix that those identifying as LGBTQ+ are greatly overrepresented among homeless youth, at nearly 40% despite only 7% of the general population identifying as LGBTQ+. Homeless LGBTQ+ youth are three to seven times more likely to engage in survival sex—exchanging sexual acts for basic needs like food and shelter—compared to non-LGBTQ+ homeless youth.
Homeless & Runaways
The instability of homelessness presents a clear opening for traffickers to offer safe haven, money, or drugs in exchange for sexual exploitation. A recent study found that one fifth of homeless youth are victims of human trafficking.
Like those in foster care, runaways are often leaving unstable home situations only to find themselves fighting for basic needs. This creates all the heightened vulnerabilities—lack of stability, a desire for affection, financial challenges, and more—that lead to predatory trafficking.
If you have any suspicions about child sex trafficking in your area, please report it to your local law enforcement authority. IMPORTANT: If you have reason to believe a person is in immediate danger you should call the police first.
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