7 Things to Know About the Underage US Sex Trade

1. It exists. Americans tend to associate sex trafficking of minors with distant countries and often don’t realize the same problem is serious and growing within the United States. Nicholas Kristof, whose masterful and heartbreaking reports illuminated human trafficking in Cambodia, recently shone the spotlight on the tragedy’s American twin, and two bills pending in Congress will hopefully give the US a chance to better understand and address domestic trafficking.

TAKE ACTION: Urge Congress to pass legislation combating human trafficking within the United States.

2. The number of children forced into prostitution is high, and the average initial age is low. Within the US, more than 100,000 children are victimized through commercial sex and prostitution each year. The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14 and the average age for boys and transgender youth is 11-13. That’s a pretty harsh reality check for people who advocate on behalf of some form of “voluntary” prostitution.

3. American street-kids are one of the most vulnerable groups. According to Kristof, “There’s a misperception in America that “sex trafficking” is mostly about foreigners smuggled into the U.S. That exists. But I’ve concluded that the biggest problem and worst abuses involve not foreign women but home-grown runaway kids.”

4. There have been cases of human trafficking in all 50 states and D.C,  and your favorite city could easily be a center for sex trafficking. It’s worth being informed, and there are probably local shelters where you can volunteer or lend your support.

5. Your words matter. A new language is emerging that more accurately and sensitively reflects the realities of sex trafficking and prostitution. For example, popular culture has rendered the word “pimp” almost cool and, therefore, useless. Activists recommend it be replaced with the word “trafficker,” and similarly, a person who is a “John” is better described as “a man who buys sex from young girls.” Anyone forced into prostitution or exploited by traffickers is a victim or survivor.

6. Exploitation, not violent coercion or physical movement across borders, is the common factor between all cases of sex trafficking.This is according to an eye-opening report by Dr. Raymond and Dr. Hughes.  Exploitation, and therefore sex trafficking, comes in many forms: subjection to physical coercion, harassment, or threats; an addiction to drugs; an inability to speak the local language; economic necessity; etc. Since prostitution is inherently exploitative, it is intricately linked to trafficking. According to the report, “trafficking should not be separated from prostitution. Anti-trafficking policies and programs must address organized prostitution and domestic trafficking. Most trafficking is for prostitution, and operates within the context of domestic sex industries.”

7. Every child involved in the sex trade is a victim. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, any child selling sex in the United States is, by definition, a victim of human trafficking.  However, according to the Department of Justice, 1,600 children were arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice in 2006.

Revitalizing our fight against sex trafficking will take changes in funding, laws, and enforcement, but it will also require society to take a fresh and thorough look at what the problem is and who it is hurting.

If you’d like to help combat sex trafficking within the United States and support the crime’s victims, please sign the Care2 petition.

photo credit: thanks to Alyssa L. Miller via flickr
please note: the teen pictured is not a victim of the sex trade


John Bauer
Past Member 6 years ago

wow, it sucks, having a name like "John"

Jon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy6 years ago

This is insane for a child to have to go through this and very sad. Its sad that this goes on all over the world and no one tend to put a stop to it.

Blacktiger P.
Blacktiger P6 years ago

I say again as I have said before:look within your own family! There are perverts out there so are you giving sustanance and shelter to one? Are you in denial? We MUST take stock of all those within our circle of friends and family.

Lin Moy
Lin M6 years ago

Why arrest the children, they are taught to obey grown people all over the world. How can a child ever be at fault? Sick to know kids are treated this way while we have brats that turn on parents because they have to do chores.

Bo Tipton
Bo Tipton7 years ago

To arrest someone for something that they are forced to do is ludicrous. Someone jumps in your car at a traffic light and holds a gun to your head and makes you drive over the speed limit. Once the person is caught and you are saved the police come up and give you a speeding ticket. Make just about as much sense as locking children up who are forced to have sex with perverts. Oh by the way instead of calling them Johns how about calling them sick perverts.

Ed D.
Ed D.7 years ago

words: don't allow newspapers to call children "prostitutes" -- in the US children cannot legally give consent to sex with an adult. Johns therefore are not buying sex, but the opportunity to rape. Children should be referred to as being prostituted -- a term that makes it more clear that they had no consent at all in the matter. Also, I do not recommend saying that all Johns buy sex from young girls. That leads to less understanding of the issue, not more. Johns participate in ongoing criminal enterprise that ENSLAVES women, girl and boys maybe even some men. Pimps should be referred to as brutal slave-masters that deserve LIFE in prison with zero possibility of human contact forever.

Geri M.

Back in the l960's the organized feminist movement railed on the police for not recognizing victims as fundamentally innocent. It took years to convince them that rape victims were NOT responsible for their own rape! Now we have the same obtuseness with respect to child prostitutes! Children are fundamentally innocent, only their exploiters should go to jail!

Geri M.

That child trafficking has increased doesn't surprise me at all. The atmosphere is one of political bullying, suggesting that bullying is acceptable; increased unemployment and therefore, more poverty; increased stress and therefore family runaways; weakened ethics and morals in business, therefore children can be exploited. As for men who have sex with children, more men, than women, have sold themselves to the corporatist culture, thereby increasing prostitution of the self and one's personal interests for money or other advantage.

Allan Y.
.7 years ago

I too had no idea this is so commonplace in America.

D.Jean L.
D.J. Lubonovich7 years ago

Great word Dean P. !! I am looking it up as soon as I get off here. I don't understand why they are arresting children ! They should be taking them off the streets and saving them. Arrest the bastards that put them out there ! What's really sad is that there are enough sick people out there to make this a profitable business. A sad commentary on humanity.