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Minor Sex Trafficking

Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking
Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking
Tamara Stafford
Arizona State University
15 February 2019
Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking
Because of their youth and inexperience, children are generally more vulnerable to
manipulation by adults. Moreover, a child who has run away from an abusive home, or who
has been thrown out of her home, can be much more easily persuaded to do things in exchange
for “a better life.” Promises of money, education, or a relationship with someone who cares for
them undoubtedly sound very appealing to a child who has had little to no love or care.
Runaways and “throwaways,” homeless children, those with a history of suffering abuse, those
in foster care, and kidnapped children are far more susceptible to sexual exploitation than
children who reside in stable, loving homes. According to the FBI, there were over 400,000
entries for missing children in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database in 2018;
this number includes multiple entries for any child who ran away more than once. The National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) assisted families and law enforcement with
more than 25,000 of those missing children in 2018; 92% of those missing were endangered
runaways. It is estimated that 1 in 7 of those runaways were likely victims of domestic minor
sex trafficking (NCMEC, 2019). Although some are male, the majority of sex trafficking victims
are female (Miller-Perrin & Wurtele, 2017).
The presence of violence in the family home, especially the physical and sexual abuse of
a child, can lead the child to run away from home, placing her at an elevated risk for
exploitation by traffickers. But, even those that are not being abused can find themselves in a
vulnerable position when they run away. In the documentary, Selling the Girl Next Door, a
young girl, Selina, runs away from her Las Vegas home after fighting with her mother and gets
picked up at a bus stop by what she believed to be a nice man offering her a ride. She would
soon find out that he was, in fact, a pimp who would later sell her on the website
Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking
Backpage.com. Selina was sold into sexual slavery at just 12-years-old. What began as an
innocent ride turned into a nightmare for this young girl just looking to escape her home and
avoid fighting with her mom (Turnham, 2011).
As Miller-Perrin and Wurtele point out, one way to understand domestic minor sex
trafficking (DMST) is through the principle of supply and demand (2017). The trafficker is driven
by money; from the perspective of the consumer, he is driven by motives such as sexual desires
(Kotrla, 2010). As with any business, as long as there is a demand, then it must be met with a
supply. In this case, the supplies are children who are targeted and recruited by pimps and
Interestingly, a study by Kimberly Kotrla and Beth Ann Wommack performed in 2011
found that, of at least 153 victims sampled, they were an average age of 15 years old and had
not run away from home; this is an important distinction. The victims in the study usually
ended up in an exploitative situation through “some type of false promise, followed by
kidnapping” (Kotrla & Wommack, 2011). It is noteworthy that, while runaways are most
definitely a vulnerable group, many young girls are sought out and recruited in the comfort of
their own homes, online through social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
Kotrla and Wommack stress that the reality of online predators must be underscored
during prevention work with younger children, and that the work needs to begin much earlier
than the age of 13, the average age of entry into sex trafficking (2011). Young women (and
men) need to be educated about the risks posed by these online exploiters, which includes
teaching them about the methods employed by traffickers and pimps to recruit victims.
Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking
Because this education needs to start when children are young, elementary and middle schools
should be implementing this into their curriculum. Churches and shelters also have a great
opportunity to train youths about online predatory behavior.
Another useful prevention tool are public awareness campaigns. Thankfully, public
awareness of domestic minor sex trafficking is growing. Health organizations are participating
in the efforts to end DMST by identifying victims; these efforts, combined with the diligence of
grassroots communities to increase media coverage aimed at young girls intended to raise their
awareness of the dangers, are helping to shed light on a dark and dangerous threat (MillerPerrin & Wurtele, 2017). People cannot be moved to action to combat a problem unless they
know it exists.
Additionally, many providers of care who may come into contact with victims also need
to be alerted to the reality of DMST, and be properly trained to respond to it so they can better
care for and counsel victims. Care providers in domestic violence and homeless shelters, foster
and group homes, as well as nurses and medical staff in hospitals and clinics where victims may
seek treatment should all be well educated about DMST, and know how to recognize the
warning signs displayed by victims. Attaining this knowledge will allow providers to identify a
child sex trafficking victim, treat them accordingly, and seek appropriate care and counseling.
While progress has been made with regard to public awareness, reintegrating victims of
DMST back into society proves to be a difficult task. David Hodge points out that the
identification of victims is an “essential first step in the process of healing and restoration of
wellness” (2014). If victims are not identified, they are denied access to services and are unable
to escape their traffickers. Law enforcement officers usually play the primary role in
Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking
identification, but Hodge suggests that social workers can also play a vital role in this respect.
There is some research to suggest that more than a quarter of trafficking victims visited a
health professional while they were being trafficked (Hodge, 2014). Victims often work long
hours in squalid conditions with little food, and may undergo unsafe abortions leading to health
complications which precipitate a visit to a hospital or clinic. Social workers in these
environments have the opportunity to assess and identify a trafficking victim and facilitate care
and assistance.
Not surprisingly, victims of child sex trafficking suffer not just physical harm, but bear
long lasting emotional and mental scars as well. While there are no specific symptoms that can
distinguish trafficking victims from non-trafficking victims, there are certain indicators that may
suggest an individual has been trafficked. For example, signs of physical abuse such as scars or
cigarette burns, the absence of documentation, and the constant presence of another person
(likely a pimp,) can indicate trafficking. Likewise, emotional characteristics such as signs of fear,
depression, or evasiveness when answering questions can suggest a person is being victimized
(Hodge, 2014.)
Additionally, it is crucial that law enforcement and social workers recognize that, while
these women have broken the law, they are victims of sexual exploitation and should be
treated as such. Leaving trafficking is often a difficult process, despite policies enacted by the
U.S. government to aid victims of trafficking such as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence
Protection Act (VTVPA) which was passed in 2000. Many women do not want to leave their
traffickers for fear of their own safety, or fear of retribution to their families.
Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking
When young women do escape, they face other challenges, such as finding safe and
secure housing. Proposed shelters that have been authorized in the VTVPA need to be funded
in order to be realized, and this can be accomplished by the combined efforts of social workers
and local groups to raise funds in communities where the need is greatest (Kotrla, 2010.)
Like other victims of abuse, victims of DMST may identify with their exploiters, believing
that they care for them (Hodge, 2014.) The emotional and mental harm suffered by victims
needs to be addressed and treated, as this is likely to cause more trauma than the physical
abuse. Moreover, if the mental health of the victim is not restored, they are much more likely
to succumb to re-victimization.
Social service providers and law enforcement professionals need to be knowledgeable
about domestic minor sex trafficking; what it entails, where it exists, and who is most
vulnerable to being victimized. Social workers need to be given the resources to fully
implement programs to assist these young women in exiting trafficking, accessing mental
health care, and living productive lives in society. Law enforcement should crack down on the
pimps and traffickers, and prosecutors should aggressively seek harsher sentences for those
predators who traffic children.
Running Head: Minor Sex Trafficking
Hodge, David R. (2014). Assisting Victims of Human Trafficking: Strategies to Facilitate
Identification, Exit from Trafficking, and the Restoration of Wellness. Social Work 59.2, (pgs.
Kotrla, Kimberly (2010). Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in the United States. Social work, 55.2, (pgs.
Kotrla, Kimberly & Wommack, B. A. (2011). Sex Trafficking of Minors in the US: Implications for
Policy, Prevention and Research. Journal of Applied Research on Children: Informing Policy for
Children at Risk, 2(1), 5.
Miller-Perrin, Cindy & Wurtele, S. K. (2017). Sex Trafficking and the Commercial Sexual Exploitation
of Children. Women & Therapy, 40:1-2, (pgs. 123-151).
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Retrieved February 8, 2019, from
Turnham, Steve (2011, January 23). Selling the Girl Next Door. Atlanta, GA: Cable News Network.