The Facts About Sexual Exploitation

What is Human Trafficking?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as (a) sex trafficking in which a 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; or (b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Definition of Terms Used in the Term “Severe Forms of Trafficking in Persons”

Sex trafficking means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.

Commercial sex act means any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.

Involuntary servitude includes a condition of servitude induced by means of (a) any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that, if the person did not enter into or continue in such condition, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint; or (b) the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.

Debt bondage means the status or condition of a debtor arising from a pledge by the debtor of his or her personal services or of those of a person under his or her control as a security for debt, if the value of those services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt or the length and nature of those services are not respectively limited and defined.

Coercion means (a) threats of serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; (b) any scheme, plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or, (c) the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.

How does someone become a sex-trafficking victim?

Traffickers target vulnerable people and lure them into forced prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation using false promises, manipulation, drugs, and/or violence. They may be vulnerable to such a person who promises to meet his or her physical or emotional needs. A trafficker’s main purpose is to exploit them for monetary gain. Often traffickers will create a seemingly loving and caring relationship with their victim in order to establish trust and allegiance. This manipulative relationship tries to ensure the victim will remain loyal to the exploiter even in the face of severe victimization. These relationships may begin online before progressing to a real-life encounter.


Traffickers are predators who seek out vulnerable victims, including runaways, children or females without resources or opportunities, and any child who is online is a potential target. They know these children have emotional and physical needs that may not be being met and use this to their advantage. Traffickers find victims at a variety of venues such as in social-networking websites, shopping malls, and schools; on local streets; or at bus stations. While raffickers may target children outside of their family, a family member may also traffick their own child for drugs or money. A story we hear all to often, unfortunately.


Traffickers are willing to invest a great deal of time and effort in their victim to break down a victim’s natural resistance and suspicion – buying them gifts, providing a place to stay, promising a loving relationship – before revealing their true intent. Frequently victims do not realize the deceptive nature of their trafficker’s interest in them, viewing their traffickers as a caretaker and/or boyfriend.


A traffickers’ use of psychological manipulation (causing the child to truly believe he/she cares for his or her well-being) coupled with physical control (threats, violence, or drug addiction) can make a victim feel trapped and powerless. This “trauma bond” is difficult to break and specialized counseling and a new safe support network for victims is required.

The Latest Statistics

Despite the seriousness of the problem, the incidence of commercial sexual exploitation is difficult to measure.
There are many challenges in providing conclusive empirical research to define the scope of the problem, b
elow are significant findings from past studies.  


of victims have a history of sexual abuse


people are believed to be enslaved in the U.S. at any given point in time.


is the average age of entry into human trafficking in Florida (acc. to DCF). Although, many have been victimized at even an earlier age.


cases of suspected child sexual exploitation were reported through the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children between 1998-2017.

Barriers for Reaching Victims

Psychology of Victimization

Pimps may use force, fraud, or coercion to virtually enslave their victims. Young victims have been controlled by threats of violence to their family; pornographic images taken and used for blackmail or stigmatization; physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Some may be gang-raped to desensitize them to sexual activity prior to victimizing them in prostitution. Victims are taught to not trust law enforcement and may have experienced negative encounters with law-enforcement officers. They often remain with pimps out of fear of being physically harmed, having another victim endure physical harm, or a threat to their family members. Pimps have been convicted of plotting to murder cooperative victim witnesses and for the homicide of victims, further instilling fear.

Trauma Bonding 

Common among youth/younger victims exploited for commercial sex. The victim experiences a strong link to the pimp/exploiter based in what they perceive as an incredibly intense or important relationship, but one in which there has been an exploitation of trust or power. Emotional bonding is a learned tactic for survival and can be common between the exploited and the exploiter. Advocacy groups working directly with this population note reframing the trauma bond with a pimp/exploiter can take months of therapy and/or residential treatment. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very common among those exposed to human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation and may be characterized by such symptoms as anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, flashbacks, emotional numbing, and hyper-alertness. Victims of commercial sexual exploitation often have unique needs given the frequent nature of multiple acts of sexual exploitation or violence, by multiple offenders, over potentially a sustained period of time.

If you suspect a case of commercial child sexual exploitation or human trafficking of children

Contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® at 1-800-843-5678 or visit, or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888.  In Florida, call the Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873. 
If you are a victim seeking assitance, you can text “HELP” to  “Befree” or call your local police.
For information on how child crimes are investigated nationally, visit

For more information about recognizing the signs: