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at this very moment, it's estimated that about 4 million children are being exploited in sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

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10 Facts About child trafficking

  • At any given moment, an estimated 40.3 million people are being victimized in situations of trafficking and exploitation (including forced marriage) worldwide. 25% of these are children. (ILO)

  • Human trafficking is 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.

  • 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.

  • You’ll often hear about trafficking “hotspots.” The truth is that trafficking occurs wherever there are people. Spikes in reported trafficking may also be influenced by an increased focus in that region on research, training, or an awareness campaign promoting the national hotline.

  • Sex trafficking is not just a “women and girls issue.” About 15% of those in our US survivor care have been boys and non-binary youth.

  • Children from culturally and linguistically diverse communities are more than 2x as likely to experience sex trafficking as children who identified as white. (JAMA)

  • 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.

  • Sometimes youth continue going to school, living at home, and participating in extracurricular activities – even while they are being trafficked.

  • Often, a “rescue” isn’t the only (or best) way to freedom. Training to recognize & respond appropriately to trafficking, as well as trauma-informed spaces to heal help create pathways for more victims to exit exploitation.

  • Child trafficking is not a new phenomena. Human Trafficking has been happening forever. In 2003 the United Nations introduced the Trafficking Protocol, introducing a universally agreed upon definition of trafficking in persons. (UNODC)

Human trafficking is an underground crime, so it’s difficult to measure.

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. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated in 2017 that 4 million children are being exploited and sex trafficking and labor trafficking at any given moment. However, in 2017, the ILO expanded their reporting on trafficking & exploitation to include forced marriage. Under that definition including forced marriage, 40.3 million are estimated to be victims, including nearly 10 million children. Historically, Love146 has focused on the issue of child sex trafficking. In 2012, however, we expanded our mission to also include children exploited in labor trafficking. Today, our programs work to address both sex and labor trafficking.

35.8 M
PEOPLE are being Trafficked, Exploited, or in forced marriages right now
OF 15.4M in Forced Marriage, CHILDREN MAKE UP...
37%
OF 4.1M in State Imposed Labor, CHILDREN MAKE UP...
Children Make Up 7%
OF 4.8M in Sex Trafficking, CHILDREN MAKE UP...
21%
Of 16M in LABOR TRAFFICKING, children make up...
18%

You’ll often hear about trafficking “hotspots.” 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 ironically be a good thing.

Children being bought for sex are victims, not criminals.

In the US, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act establishes that under federal law children under the age of 18 involved in commercial sex act are victims of trafficking regardless of whether they did so as a result of force, fraud, or coercion. However, many states still do not have laws that protect sexually exploited children from being prosecuted for prostitution.

Traffickers are calculated.

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.

In reality, few trafficked children are swept off the street and thrown into white vans. Instead, they’re often trafficked by people they know or who form relationships with them for the explicit purposes of later exploiting them. 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 a victims self-identify.

Traffickers exploit vulnerabilities.

Being a child is an inherent vulnerability. 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). 

Swipe to see ways a trafficker may approach a child...

Sex trafficking is rarely the first thing to go wrong in a child’s life.

Here’s data from nearly 500 referrals to our Survivor Care in the United States.

WHAT YOUTH REFERRED TO LOVE146's survivor care also experienced:

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Child Welfare Involvement
87%
Running Away
81%
Sexual Abuse
68%
Mental Illness
63%
Divorced or separated parents
56%
self-injury
45%
Physcial neglect
43%
physical abuse
31%
Incarcerated Household Member
18%
Deceased Family Member
13%

Sex trafficking is not just a “women and girls issue.”

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 in the US and the Philippines 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%.

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Children from culturally and linguistically diverse communities are more than 2x as likely to experience sex trafficking as children who identified as white.

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.

— A survivor’s account of how raced played a role in their trafficking victimization from the spring 2019 edition of the Connecticut Department of Children & Families’ HART Helps Newsletter

— Yvette Young, Project Director/Human Anti-Trafficking Response Team Coordinator with the Village for Families & Children

A “rescue” isn't the only (or best) way to freedom.

There are lots of ways people find opportunities 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 even reaching out themselves and asking for help. Love146’s professional training equips adults to recognize and appropriately respond to children who are vulnerable or being exploited.

If you suspect you or someone you know is being exploited, call the national human trafficking hotline at 1-888-3737-888.

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Child trafficking is not a new phenomenon, but caring about it is.

Trafficking has been happening forever.

In 1951 the United Nations adopted the first Convention to fight trafficking in persons. It was still years before human trafficking would move into mainstream conversation and it wasn’t until after the year 2000 that the UN & the US both arrived at definitions of human trafficking . Love146 and many other activists began to come alive at this time in history. 

When the world defined it, and more people noticed that it was occuring to so many people – including millions of children – it felt awful. When we start shining a light on something it can seem like the problem is intensifying or it seems worse to those who had never noticed it. We hear people say things like “This wasn’t happening back in the old days.” But this is not true. Bygone eras weren’t better times. For some, realizing a problem does give the feeling that world is getting worse. Even though that isn’t necessarily true, your feelings about this problem do matter! Your rage, indignation, determination, defiant hope, it all matters — especially what you do next with it. The more clearly we understand what is wrong, the better we can take action to build a safer world for children, and everyone.

now that you know more

you can do something.

common myths

Frankly, no one knows exactly how many people trafficking affects. Years ago, it was estimated that 27 million people were being trafficked. In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that 20.9 million were being trafficked. 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. And in 2017, the International Labour Organisation expanded their reporting on trafficking & exploitation to include forced marriage. Under that definition, 40.3 million are estimated to be victims at any given moment. But these are estimates—not facts. Trafficking is an illegal underground issue; it is incredibly complex and underreported. For these reasons, it is difficult to measure, although more research is desperately needed. We know the problem is real. We know the problem is big. And behind every disputable estimate is a real person that cannot be dismissed. It is with humility over the past few years that we at Love146 have looked more closely at the problem of outdated or questionable estimates being presented as hard facts. Misuse of statistics discredits the movement and doesn’t truly equip people to address trafficking in their own communities.

According to the International Labour Organization’s estimates, more children are trafficked for labor than sex.

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 in the US and the Philippines 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%.

Not always, but sometimes. However, “rescue” can be an incredibly disorienting experience for a victim. Many youth caught up in commercial sex live in fear of law enforcement and do not readily trust strangers. One child we know was told by rescuers, “We have a safe place for you with help and services,” to which she responded “Last time someone said that it didn’t turn out so well.” Repeatedly (and understandably) we hear from survivors that when they were “rescued,” they didn’t know they were being helped until much later. For a victim, to be removed from a situation of trafficking may mean being taken away from what has become familiar and predictable and placed into an unknown future. The anxiety that can be generated by a “rescue” experience is compounded if the child doesn’t yet understand their experience as trafficking. While operations to intervene are sometimes effective, there are lots of ways people find opportunities 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 even reaching out themselves and asking for help. Love146’s professional training equips adults to recognize and appropriately respond to children who are vulnerable or being exploited.

While we’ve encountered cases of children who were taken from their communities and kept in a locked room, forceful kidnapping and containment are not the majority of cases of trafficking. Many children are trafficked through empty promises, false job offers, and coercion. While they are not always kept physically bound to their trafficker, they may be scared to seek help or threatened if they leave. Additionally, in some cases they may not know of or have the opportunity to access help and resources. Today’s “chains” are less visible, and the Hollywood version of trafficking we may have in our minds (i.e. white vans and chains) don’t represent the majority of cases.

Our data indicate that there is a disproportionate number of children of color being trafficked. Look deeper in this blog post.

Demonizing those who buy sex from teens as pedophiles is technically incorrect and problematic. Pedophilia is the condition of being sexually attracted to young children who have not yet begun puberty. Rings of pedophiles exist, and people do buy and sell young children for sex—we’ve received girls in our own survivor care programs as young as 1-years-old. However, to think that all those who buy sex from children are affected by this abnormal psychological condition prevents us from seeing that it is often “normal” folks in our communities who buy sex from trafficked youth.

The UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol acknowledges that a child (that is, a person under the age of 18) cannot in any way give a valid consent for a commercial sexual act. Therefore, any child who is involved in commercial sex is a victim of exploitation.

Additionally, in many places age of consent and safe harbor laws (which vary state by state in the US) reinforce that these children are not prostitutes but victims. Legally and ethically, the term “child prostitute” itself is a misnomer. Unfortunately, this global and federal understanding is still unacknowledged by many U.S. states. In some states children continue to be arrested for prostitution.

Some children become involved in other criminal activity as a byproduct of their commercial sexual exploitation. For example, sometimes they are arrested for drug use/possession (often provided by a trafficker), truancy, loitering, and petty theft (which could be working to meet quotas set by traffickers), etc. For this and other reasons, many cases of child trafficking and exploitation are misidentified by law enforcement and media and incriminate the child or portray them as a delinquent. Unfortunately, this causes children who have been trafficked and/or exploited to be viewed and treated as criminals as opposed to victims, and it can hinder their ability to receive the holistic care they deserve.

In many cases, those buying, selling, and abusing children appear to live ordinary, respectable lives. In fact, perpetrators often seek out positions of trust and power in order to gain access to children and maintain exploitative situations. Too often the stories we hear involve pastors, diplomats, youth leaders, law enforcement, and educators—perpetrating unspeakable crimes against children, using their power and connections as protection and facade. They come from various walks of life. Lest we start another myth, we should say it is also pastors, diplomats, youth leaders, law enforcement, educators, etc. who have been some of the greatest champions for children. There is no one true stereotype for who exploits or trafficks children— or who could be their greatest ally.

Laws differ globally. In the United States, trafficking does not require the movement of a victim. Trafficking can occur without a victim ever leaving his or her own neighborhood.

Yes it does. Cases of child trafficking and exploitation are reported on a regular basis from law enforcement and social services throughout the country.

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 ironically be a good thing.

END CHILD TRAFFICKING

Web Series

It can get confusing as you look through various articles, blogs, and online discussions. That’s why we put together a free web series to make sure that you’ve got accurate info to do your part protecting kids. Love146 has almost two decades of experience; we’ve journeyed with hundreds of child trafficking survivors and we’ve reached thousands of kids through our trafficking prevention curriculum.

2 WEBINARS LED BY SOME MEMBERS OF OUR TEAM

session 1:

child trafficking myths
and facts

  • Clarify common misconceptions about child trafficking.
  • Define human trafficking.
  • Give insight on the most vulnerable populations.

session 2:

recognizing red flags and helping youth find a safe adult

  • Shed light on how traffickers can hide in plain sight.
  • Identify red flags and tactics traffickers use to groom and recruit children.
  • Discuss steps adults and caregivers can take to address the issue.