Context: Information currently available on the trafficking of minors in the U.S. for commercial sexual exploitation includes approximations of the numbers involved, risk factors that increase the likelihood of victimization and methods of recruitment and control. However, specific characteristics about this vulnerable population remain largely unknown. Objective: This article has two distinct purposes. The first is to provide the reader with an overview of available information on minor sex trafficking in the U.S. The second is to present findings and discuss policy, research, and educational implications from secondary data analysis of 115 cases of minor sex trafficking in the U.S. Design: Minor sex trafficking cases were identified through two main venues - a review of U.S. Department of Justice press releases of human trafficking cases and an online search of media reports. Searches covered the time period from October 28, 2000, which coincided with the passage of the VTVPA through October 31, 2009. Cases were included in analysis if the incident involved at least one victim under the age of 18, occurred in the U.S., and at least one perpetrator had been arrested, indicted, or convicted. Results: A total of 115 separate incidents involving at least 153 victims were located. These occurrences involved 215 perpetrators, with the majority of them having been convicted (n = 117, 53.4%), The number of victims involved in a single incident ranged from 1 to 9. Over 90% of victims were female who ranged in age from 5 to 17 years. There were more U.S. minor victims than those from other countries. Victims had been in captivity from less than 6 months to 5 years. Minors most commonly fell into exploitation through some type of false promise indicated (16.3%, n = 25), followed by kidnapping (9.8%, n = 15). Over a fifth of the sample (22.2%, n = 34) were abused through two commercial sex practices, with almost all (94.1%, n = 144) used in prostitution. One of every five victims (24.8%, n = 38) had been advertised on an Internet website. Conclusions: Results of a review of known information about minor sex trafficking and findings from analysis of 115 incidents of the sex trafficking of youth in the U.S. indicate a need for stronger legislation to educate various professional groups, more comprehensive services for victims, stricter laws for pimps and traffickers, and preventive educational interventions beginning at a young age.

Key Take Away Points

  • Trafficking of minors for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation in this country is a substantial problem.
  • Minors are victimized extensively through prostitution.
  • Better coordination among all agencies serving minor victims of sex trafficking are needed to improve data collection and service provision.
  • Prevention education with youth is critically needed.
  • States must consider adopting safe harbor laws for minor sex trafficking victims under the age of 18.
  • Regulation of online posting of youth for use in the commercial sex industry is recommended.
  • Education or training for law enforcement, child protective service workers, health care professionals, school personnel, and runaway shelter staff is needed.
  • Public awareness campaigns, particularly in rural areas, would likely increase identification of victims.

Author Biography

Kim Kotrla, Ph.D., LCSW has been an Assistant Professor in the Baylor University School of Social Work since 2006. Prior to joining the faculty at Baylor, Dr. Kotrla was a post-doctoral research fellow with Center for Social Work Research, as well as a research assistant with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Substance Abuse Research Development Program, both at the University of Texas at Austin. She also practiced for 10 years as a social worker in the realm of health care. Dr. Kotrla currently teaches baccalaureate and graduate research courses, as well as baccalaureate field seminars. Dr. Kotrla has developed a university-wide human trafficking elective course and focuses much of her work on the commercial sexual exploitation of minors in the U.S. She has presented on the issue at multiple conferences and had publications in the arena published in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Kotrla also serves on subcommittees of Texas’ human trafficking prevention task force.

Beth Ann Wommack graduated in 2010 with her BSW from Baylor University Social Work and is currently pursuing her MSW degree. She has focused much her academic work on the issue of human trafficking and prostitution. Ms. Wommack is currently completing her field internship with an organization that provides direct services to women desiring to leave the sex industry.



Responses to this Article:

Rick Halperin, Sex Trafficking of Minors as a Human Rights Issue (March 2011)