Myth: Victims of sex trafficking usually come from a specific background, socioeconomic status, or race.
Reality: There are some factors that make children more vulnerable, but victims can be of any demographic.
Briana was an 18-year-old cheerleader and honor roll student with hopes of going to school to become a nurse. While she was waitressing, she met a 24-year-old man who befriended her and soon became her boyfriend. Within a few months, Briana’s boyfriend had convinced her to start stripping to help pay the bills. Eventually, Briana made plans to move across the country to be with him and make a life for herself. Thankfully, Briana’s family and friends intervened when the police informed them that she was likely being groomed for sex trafficking.
What put Briana at risk of being trafficked? Here are some factors that make youth more vulnerable:
- Previous sexual abuse: 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually abused before the age of 18, and 85% of those in the sex trade were abused as children.
- African American and Latino: 52% of all juvenile prostitution arrests are African-American children.
- Child Welfare involvement or homelessness: Studies report that 50-90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system and that about 25% of homeless children have experienced sex trafficking or survival sex.
- Refugee and Migrant Children: 76% of refugees surveyed in the Mediterranean indicate they have been trafficked or exploited, but domestic data is limited.
- LGBTQ: A study in New York City estimated that more than 1 in 4 homeless LGBTQ children are victims of sex trafficking
However, of all of these demographics, age remains the primary vulnerability. The common age that children enter into sex trafficking is 14-16 years old. Why? Because this is when most girls begin to transition into womanhood: they often look older than they really are, they start to become independent of their parents/guardians, they seek attention and affection, and they are trying to figure out who they are. So, many young people, like Briana, might come from a loving family and live in a nice neighborhood, but their age and naivety make them easy targets for traffickers.
Unfortunately, today’s technology is making it easier for pimps to recruit online and find vulnerable youth who are seeking love, adventure, worth, protection, and opportunity. Traffickers use social media sites as well as schools, malls, parks, bus stops, shelters, group homes, and anywhere young people normally hang out to find the next girl they will “pimp out”.
So what can you do to prevent your children from being trafficked? We are not advising you to lock up your kids or take away all of their phones and privileges. Living in fear of the “what ifs” is never helpful or healthy for you or your children. What we do want to do is educate parents on what makes youth vulnerable and teach them how to recognize the warning signs of trafficking (such as an older boyfriend, unexplained new clothing or jewelry, and increased secretive behavior and isolation). We also want to enable parents to have age-appropriate discussions about sex trafficking and establish trust and openness with their children.
Check out this guide for parents to learn other tips and tools. If you think someone is being trafficked, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733 (BeFree).