1. At any given moment, an estimated 40.3 million people are being victimized in situations of trafficking and exploitation worldwide. 25% of these are children. (ILO)
Human Trafficking is an underground crime, so it’s difficult to measure child trafficking statistics, and more research is desperately needed. But we know the problem is real. We know the problem is big. And behind every estimate is a real person who cannot be dismissed. In 2017, the International Labour Organisation expanded their reporting on trafficking & exploitation (what they call modern-slavery) to include forced marriage. Under that definition, 40.3 million are estimated to be victims at any given moment.
For most of our organizational history, our programs focused on children who’ve been sexually exploited. In 2012 we expanded our mission to also include children exploited in labor trafficking. Today, our Survivor Care in the UK, as well as some of our prevention work, help children affected by labor trafficking as well.
2. Human trafficking is defined as any situation of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power. (ILO)
In the case of child sex trafficking, force, fraud, or coercion do not need to be present, and the crime is simply the exchange of any sex act with a child for anything of value.
3. Traffickers exploit vulnerabilities — and being a child is an inherent vulnerability.
Under US federal law, all children involved in commercial sex are victims of human trafficking. Sadly, only about half of US states have laws that protect sexually exploited children from being prosecuted for prostitution.
Children are vulnerable because their brains are still developing, because they depend on adults for safety and resources, and because they lack many basic legal rights. Although all youth are vulnerable to being groomed by traffickers, some are particularly vulnerable, including children in the foster care system, runaway and homeless youth, youth that identify as LGBTQ, and those with a history of complex traumatic stress—resulting from continuous exposure to family dysfunction, trauma, sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse or harassment (i.e. bullying). The after-effects faced by children include long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and even death.
4. You’ll often hear about trafficking “hotspots.” Rather than in one “hotspot,” the truth is that trafficking occurs wherever there are people.
If you looked at a map of trafficking referrals, major highways, and human population density, you’d find they are often closely aligned. Where there are more people, more children are likely being exploited. Spikes in reported trafficking may also be influenced by an increased focus in that region on research, training, law-enforcement efforts, or an awareness campaign promoting the national hotline – and though the increase numbers may not seem like it at first, that can indicate a good thing — that anti-trafficking efforts are bringing the issue out of the shadows, and finding more people who need help.
5. Sex trafficking is not just a “women and girls issue.” About 15% of those in our survivor care have been boys and nonbinary youth.
The ILO report claims about sex trafficking that “the vast majority of victims (99 percent) were women and girls.” However, when we’ve adjusted our perspective and programs to make space to see and care for sexually exploited boys, we’ve seen identification rates jump significantly.
As of 2019, in Love146’s programs for victims of child sex trafficking, we’ve seen 13.5% are boys and 1.6% non-binary youth. Some research suggests this number of boys affected could be as high as 30-50%. Until we see less stigma around the abuse of boys, we won’t be able to know how many boys are being exploited or help many of them.
6. In the United States, children of color are about 4x more likely to be trafficked than white children.
Every child is vulnerable to trafficking, no matter where they live, their economic background, their religion, or the color of their skin. But the hard truth is that race plays a role in every part of the exploitation of children. (The above statistic is derived by Love146 with data from Department of Justice and the US Census.)
7. Sex trafficking is rarely the first thing to go wrong in a child’s life.
We repeat: every child is vulnerable to trafficking. But data from nearly 500 referrals to our Survivor Care in the United States show us that many children who have experienced trafficking have also had other traumatic experiences that put them at greater risk. These include sexual and physical abuse, mental illness and physical neglect. While 87 percent of the youth in our Survivor Care had child welfare experience, it’s important to keep in mind that children with this kind of background often have interaction with social service agencies.
8. Traffickers can look like anyone and don’t fit one stereotype.
Love146 has connected with situations of trafficking in which exploiters have been family members, peers, romantic partners, educators, employers, community leaders, and clergy – of all ages, ethnicities & genders.
In reality, few trafficked children are swept off the street and thrown into white vans. Instead, they’re pulled into a life by traffickers that they may not have words for. Sometimes they continue going to school, living at home, and participating in extracurricular activities – even while they are being trafficked. Informed by our work with survivors, our Prevention Education helps youth spot traffickers and peers in trouble and can even help victims self-identify.
9. Sometimes youth continue going to school, living at home, and participating in extracurricular activities – even while they are being trafficked.
A lot of the youth we work with have been trafficked in plain sight. They’re not missing. Sometimes they might have run away and are living on the streets. Rarely have they experienced anything like being kidnapped. The trafficking is just one aspect of what they are doing.
10. Often, a “rescue” isn’t the only (or best) way to freedom. Training to recognize and respond appropriately to trafficking, as well as making sure there are trauma-informed spaces to heal, help create pathways for more victims to exit exploitation.
Many children in our Survivor Care haven’t been physically removed by law-enforcement from their exploitation. Rather, they’re connected to Love146 or child welfare agencies by caring adults who notice something is wrong – or sometimes they have even reached out themselves and asked for help. Love146’s professional training equips adults to recognize and appropriately respond to children who are vulnerable or being exploited.
If you or someone you or someone you know is being exploited, or if you have reason to believe that someone you know is being exploited, call the national human trafficking hotline at 1-888-3737-888
11. Child trafficking is not a new phenomenon, but caring about it is.
Human Trafficking has been happening forever, but only in the year 2000 was it recognized as a crime by the US Government & the United Nations. Once it had a name, the world began noticing that millions of people were being exploited. After learning about it, you may even feel like the world is getting worse. But bygone eras weren’t “better times.” Knowing that this horrific crime is happening might feel worse; but those are feelings, not facts. And those feelings matter! Because in reality, your rage, indignation, determination, and defiant hope — are the means by which the world IS changing for the better. The means by which we will end it.