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Child Sex Trafficking: How YOU Can Spot It


Did you know that YOU can play a role in identifying child sex trafficking? That’s right! A common misconception of child sex trafficking is that it is hidden away from the public and nearly impossible to spot. However, it often occurs right before our eyes. 

In 2023 alone, NCMEC received more than 18,400 reports of possible child sex trafficking. If you see or know a child who exhibits one or more of the signs below, it can potentially mean they are at risk of victimization through child sex trafficking: 

  • A child is in possession of unexplained large amounts of cash, prepaid cards, hotel keys, multiple cell phones or apps providing multiple cell phone numbers

  • The child’s ID is being held by another person, or they do not have any ID

  • Signs that the child has been coached when talking to people, letting others speak for them or looking at others before they speak

  • Tattoos or branding the child does not wish to talk about, explain or did not choose

  • Chronic homelessness, youth who are unstably housed or children who frequently run away 

  • Abruptly disconnects from family and friends 

  • Close association with an overly controlling adult 

  • Regular, unexplained school absences 

Child Sex Trafficking Indicators 

As January marks Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) is using this opportunity to spread awareness of the vital issue and how the public can be instrumental in spotting victims. 

Child sex trafficking is a form of child abuse that occurs when a child under 18 is advertised, solicited or exploited through a commercial sex act. A commercial sex act is any sex act where something of value – such as money, drugs or a place to stay – is given to or received by any person for sexual activity. While most people think about child sex trafficking occurring in other countries, at NCMEC the reports we receive and cases we support involve primarily American children who have gone missing and are being exploited in our own communities. Also, while we prefer to think of the traffickers as strangers, the reality is traffickers are often known to the children and can be their parents, guardians, romantic partners, teachers, church members, coaches or other individuals the child trusts. 

A child who frequently goes missing or is absent for long periods of time may also be at risk of becoming a victim of trafficking. Youth who have left their home or run away are particularly vulnerable, since traffickers often exploit their situation by making false promises of love, safety and affection. These predators take advantage of their need for basic necessities such as clothes, food and shelter.  

Child Sex Trafficking Vulnerabilities 

Of the more than 28,800 children reported to NCMEC in 2023, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking.  

NCMEC offers an online child sex trafficking training that is free. This resource includes three modules and builds a comprehensive foundation on the issue of child sex trafficking for all audiences, including law enforcement, child welfare and concerned citizens. This month we challenge you to share this free and important resource on social media, or even better – host a watch party!  

Visit to learn more.   

If you suspect an incident of child sex trafficking, please call the NCMEC hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678) or make a report at