Sex Trafficking

For help call our hotline at (800) 688-6157.
Our advocates are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Your call is confidential. 

The Problem of Sex Trafficking

The sex trafficking industry is fueled by buyers who pay traffickers to supply victims to meet their demand. Men, women, and children from a wide variety of backgrounds are victimized through sex trafficking. 

Vulnerability factors that make individuals more susceptible to trafficking include low self-esteem, being abused or neglected, poverty, homelessness, being in the foster care system, and identifying as LGBT. 

SAFE_HumanTrafficking_Chains 01.jpg

Sex Trafficking is a booming industry. It thrives because there's serious demand. Traffickers use fear, violence, intimidation, and threats to meet this demand.  

- Shared Hope International:

The Scope of the Problem
Sex Trafficking

Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Persons under age 18 who perform a commercial sex act are considered under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to be victims of human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud or coercion was present


Sex trafficking occurs when someone uses force, fraud, or coercion to cause a commercial sex act with an adult or causes a minor to commit a commercial sex act. 

What is a Commercial Sex Act?

A commercial sex act includes prostitution, pornography, and sexual performance done in exchange for any item of value, such as money, drugs, shelter, food, or clothes.  

Traffickers Find Their Victims Through:  

  • Social Media or Network 

  • Neighborhood

  • Clubs or Bars 

  • Internet 

  • School

The Demand Pipeline 

The Buyer fuels the market with their money. 

The trafficker or pimp exploits the victim to earn revenue from the buyers.

The victim includes girls and boys who are bought and sold for profit. 

The Victims

Traffickers use fear, violence, intimidation, and threats to meet the demand of buyers. The common age a child enters sex trafficking is 14-16. Often they are too young or naive to even know what's happening.  

Sex Trafficking and 
its Prevalence


Trafficking is built on the economic principle of supply and demand. Buyers who are willing to pay for commercial sex acts make the market profitable.

- Shared Hope International:

There are millions of victims worldwide. 

According to a report by Business Insider in 2019, in the United States, there is no official number of human trafficking victims, but estimates place it in the hundreds of thousands. 

According to the same report, more than 300,000 young people in the United States are considered "at-risk" of sexual exploitation. 

Prevalence and Dynamics:

The Prevalence of Sex Trafficking:

It is estimated there are millions of human trafficking victims worldwide. According to the International Labor Organization, women and girls are disproportionately affected.

  • The Americas (Latin America, the Caribbean, the U.S. and Canada) have an estimated almost 1.3 million labor and sex trafficking victims.
  • In the United States, sex trafficking is reported and investigated more frequently than labor trafficking.
  • More men than women are reported as human traffickers. However, males and females can both be victims and traffickers.
  • According to the Department of Homaleand Security's Blue Campaign, human trafficking is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form as transnational crime.

Victims of Sex Trafficking can come from any background:

According to the Polaris Project, the majority of individuals who are victims of human trafficking in the United States are U.S. citizens. However, victims can come/be brought from other countries. Victims of human trafficking can come from any background—they can be any age, gender, race or immigration status; however, some groups are particularly at risk for targeting by human traffickers and trafficking victimization.

  • Youth, particularly those in child welfare systems, those who are considered runaways or homeless, those who lack a supportive/stable home life, and those who are exposed to family abuse or neglect.
  • Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT)
  • Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, or they were abused as a child.
  • People who are chronically homeless.
  • Those with a large amount of unpaid debt.
  • People who lack socioeconomic resources or are chronically homeless.

Traffickers can be lone individuals or in criminal networks:

According to the Polaris Project, pimps, gangs, family members, intimate partners, labor brokers, employers of domestic servants, small business owners and large factory owners have all been found guilty of human trafficking. Traffickers and their victims often share the same national, ethnic or cultural background, allowing traffickers to better understand and exploit victims’ vulnerabilities.

Human Traffickers lure and ensnare people into forced commercial sex acts by identifying and exploiting their vulnerabilities.

Human traffickers often leverage their victims’ vulnerabilities in order to create dependency.

  • They make false promises aimed at addressing their victims’ needs in order to impose control. As a result, victims become trapped and fear leaving for many reasons.
  • Human traffickers’ tactics used to control victims are similar to tactics used by domestic abusers.
  • In some cases, human traffickers simply kidnap victims or use violence or substance abuse to control them.
  • In the case of foreign national victims, human traffickers may control and manipulate these individuals by leveraging the non-portability of many work visas as well as the victims’ lack of familiarity with surroundings, laws and rights, language fluency and cultural understanding.

Human Traffickers often use the Internet and Social Media to find their Victims:

Human traffickers will often use the Internet and social media to connect with and recruit victims. Many victims also report that traffickers advertised their services online.

​​​Source Data: West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services |

Traffickers leverage barriers to keep victims from leaving. 

There are many barriers that victims of sex trafficking face. Getting away from their traffickers often pose real physical safety threats. 

Victims may view traffickers as their only family, have limited options for economic survival, are isolated from others, or lack familiarity with the area where they are living.


Victims face significant challenges in escaping trafficking, seeking help, and accessing services. Additional barriers may arise at the community level when responders are not fully prepared to help trafficking victims.

​​​Source Data:

Key Indicators of 
Sex Trafficking

For trafficking victims who come into contact with rape crisis center advocates and other allied professionals but who don’t self-identify as victims, recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying these individuals as trafficking victims and offering them targeted resources to meet their specific needs.

Indicators in a person's working or living environment:

  • Does the person have freedom of movement?
  • Can the person freely leave where they are living?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Has a child or teen stopped attending school?
  • Is a child or teen engaged in commercial sex acts?

Indicators in a person's mental health or behavior:

  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?

Indicators in a person's physical health:

  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep or medical care?

Lack of control of one's own life:

  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom they defer, or someone who seems to be in control of the situation (e.g., where they go or who they talk to)?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations or houses of worship?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear to lack a stable living situation?
  • Do they take unreasonable security measures?

Source: West Virginia Foundation of Rape Information and Services |

SAFE Logo-Web.png
Are you or someone you love a victim of sex trafficking? We are here for you!
Call our hotline, (800) 688-6157.
 Our advocates are available 24 hours a day, 
7 days a week. 
Your call is confidential.