Skip to main content

Child Sex Trafficking

herobanner, hero banner, childsextrafficing

Report Child Sex Trafficking to the CyberTipline!

Overview

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, food, drugs or a place to stay – is given to or received by any person for sexual activity.  

While any child can be targeted by a trafficker, research, data and survivor lived experience and expertise have revealed traffickers and buyers often target youth who lack strong support networks, have experienced violence in the past, are experiencing homelessness, or are marginalized by society.  When youth feel like they are not loved, supported in their identity and voice, or like they don’t belong they become ever more vulnerable to unsafe situations. Traffickers are masters of manipulation and prey upon vulnerabilities using psychological pressure, false promises actions of perceived love/support and intimidation to control and sexually exploit the child for their benefit.  The issue of child sex trafficking is complex.  Understanding the various forms of child sex trafficking and indicators can create opportunities for prevention, identification, and response.  Most importantly NCMEC embraces and encourages all efforts on this issue to be survivor-informed, child-centered, and trauma-informed. 

   Below are some examples of child sex trafficking:

Pimp-Controlled Trafficking

Child is trafficked by an unrelated individual, male or female, who often develops an intentional relationship with the child which is later used as leverage in the exploitation. 

Familial Trafficking

Child is trafficked by a relative or a person who is perceived by the child to be a family member such as individuals referred to as “auntie” or “uncle” but are not directly related to the child. 

Gang-Controlled Trafficking

Child is trafficked by a member of a gang or trafficked by the gang.  Gangs leverage their organizational structure, violence, and local, national, and international networks to instill fear and loyalty in the child victim.  

Buyer-Perpetrated Trafficking

Child is being trafficked but does not have a trafficker.  Instead, the buyer is directly exploiting the child’s vulnerabilities by offering money, food, and/or shelter in exchange for the sexual exploitation. 

Child sex trafficking can have devastating immediate and long-term consequences, including health impacts, psychological and physical trauma and even death.

Prevention, education and intervention are key to keeping children safer.  After making a missing child report to law enforcement we encourage law enforcement, parents, and legal guardians to report ALL missing children, especially children who have run away, to NCMEC by calling 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Next, if you are concerned about potential child sex trafficking activity or see situations including the indicators listed below please make a report to NCMEC’s CyberTipline or call 1-800-THE-LOST.

Risk Factors

Understanding adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) as common risk factors helps identify opportunities to proactively intervene in an effort to prevent child sex trafficking. We’ve organized these factors into three categories. The list below is not exhaustive and many factors may be interconnected.

Societal & Environmental

  • Racism
  • Bullying
  • Lack of resources 
  • Involvement in child welfare or juvenile justice systems 
  • Gang activity 
  • Sexism 
  • Xenophobia

 

Family 

  • Inter-generational sexual abuse 
  • Lack of acceptance of gender identity or sexual orientation 
  • Housing instability/homelessness 
  • Immigration status 
  • Adverse childhood experiences: 
    • Domestic violence 
    • Household substance abuse 
    • Physical/emotional neglect or abuse
    • Sexual abuse 
    • Families with untreated mental health issues

Individual

  • History of trauma 
  • Lack of supportive family or adult figures
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Developmental or physical disability 
  • Substance misuse
     

 

Child Sex Trafficking Indicators

Child Sex Trafficking Vulnerabilities

By the Numbers

In 2023, NCMEC received more than

18,400 reports

 of possible child sex trafficking.

In 2023, NCMEC received more than 400 reports of missing children who had run away with co-occurring endangerments involving likely exploitation through child sex trafficking and gangs.

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

Of the children reported missing to NCMEC in 2023, who had run from the care of child welfare,

19%

were likely victims of child sex trafficking.

What NCMEC is Doing About it

Providing a Specialized Response

NCMEC provides training, case management, clearinghouse resources, analytical support, family and peer support, and recovery services assistance on reports involving child sex trafficking, including:

Child Sex Trafficking Analytical Team

The Child Sex Trafficking Team resources are available to law enforcement only.  For assistance please reach out to 1-800-THE-LOST and ask to speak with a member of this team.

  • Reviews CyberTipline reports relating to child sex trafficking and makes them available to law enforcement for review and potential investigation;
  • Conducts link analysis to connect potential victims and/or offenders in multiple states or locations;
  • Provides specialized child sex trafficking analytical assistance to law enforcement to assist with the location and recovery of survivors;
  • Leverages open source data and specialized child sex trafficking technology tools to develop information and leads;
  • Analyzes phone numbers, names, email addresses, and/or publicly accessible online presence of possible traffickers to support law enforcement with the location and recovery of missing children exploited through child sex trafficking. 
  • Offers law enforcement free, specialized operational support.

Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Planning and Services

The Child Sex Trafficking Recovery Services Team (RST) provides specialized technical assistance and resources to child welfare workers who are working with missing children who are also victims of child sex trafficking. RST Resource Specialists provide knowledge and guidance on promising practices in trauma-informed response by making connections to statewide and local specialized child sex trafficking resources. RST Resource Specialists are prepared to assist in the development of intentional, trauma-informed, and victim-centered plans which have been proven to build rapport, increase opportunities for youth engagement, and reduce trauma responses. For more information, click here.

Family Advocacy & Support

NCMEC provides assistance and support to families impacted by child sex trafficking. Family Advocacy Specialists offer crisis intervention to families as well as local referrals to appropriate professionals for longer-term support. Families of exploited children often feel alone in their struggle and overwhelmed by the issues impacting their lives. NCMEC’s Team HOPE is a volunteer program that connects families to others who have experienced the crisis of a sexually exploited child. These trained volunteers offer peer support, coping skills, and compassion.

Prioritizing Survivor Leadership & Voice

For nearly 15 years, NCMEC’s work on the topic of child sex trafficking has been informed by those with lived experience. NCMEC’s team of lived experience consultants intentionally represents a diverse group of professional, experiential, and cultural perspectives. Our inclusivity is our strength and individual perspectives are valued over consensus. The insight provided has and will continue to refine, shape, and reform our current and future child sex trafficking efforts and programs.   

The knowledge survivors of child sex trafficking provide is immeasurable, and NCMEC is committed to having a team of compensated lived experience consultants to inform existing and future programs. NCMEC’s child sex trafficking work will continue to be informed by lived-experience experts from idea to innovation through to the launch.

Training Professionals on How to Identify & Respond to Child Sex Trafficking

NCMEC provides free specialized child sex trafficking training on the identification and response to child sex trafficking that can be provided online or in person. To learn more about our training options or request specialized training, click here.
 
Each of the specialized child sex trafficking trainings were developed in collaboration with compensated lived experience consultants, alongside child welfare and/or law enforcement professionals to ensure the resources are informed by the populations they are designed to serve.

 

Introduction to Child Sex Trafficking 

This training offers three modules and builds a comprehensive foundation on the issue of child sex trafficking for all audiences including law enforcement, child welfare, as well as concerned citizens. 

To access click here.

Training for Child Welfare Professionals on Child Sex Trafficking

Child Welfare professionals play an important role in the response to child sex trafficking and supporting youth at higher risk.! From initially reporting youth in care missing to a deeper understanding of the connection to running behavior and child sex trafficking, NCMEC is here to help. 

Child Welfare Intro to NCMEC: This training offers three micro-modules specifically designed to assist child welfare professionals working with children missing from care who are exploited through child sex trafficking. 

Online Self-Paced Courses:

  • Child Sex Trafficking Legislation: What it Means for You

  • Reporting Children Missing from Care: How NCMEC Can Support You

  • NCMEC Resources for Child Welfare Professionals 

Child Sex Trafficking: Understanding Running Behavior and Trauma- Informed Youth Engagement (NASW Approved for 1 CEU): This online learning plan was created for licensed social workers and other professionals supporting children in foster care. The information included will increase knowledge and skills to improve successful engagement with youth who are likely victims of child sex trafficking or who have run away from foster care.

Courses:

  • Understanding Why Youth Run and How You Can Help

  • Child Sex Trafficking: Building Blocks for Engagement and Healing 

image, course, cst,

Training for Law Enforcement*

*Please allow 24 hours after registering as law enforcement for course access. These courses are designed to provide law enforcement with advanced techniques and best practices when working with victims of child sex trafficking and investigating these complex cases.

Online Self-Paced Courses:

  • Rapport Building and Successful Engagement with Survivors for Law Enforcement 

  • Leveraging Available Resources for Child Sex Trafficking Cases

  • Investigating Child Sex Trafficking Cases 

Building Awareness about the Issue

NCMEC writes, contributes to, and publishes multiple publications pertaining to child sex trafficking. See them all here.

thumbnail of CST document
Child Sex Trafficking Overview
thumbnail of CST document
Child Sex Trafficking in America: A Guide for Parents & Guardians
thumbnail of CST document
Child Sex Trafficking in America: A Guide for Child Welfare Professionals
Missing Male Victims of Child Sex Trafficking
Missing Children, State Care, and Child Sex Trafficking: Engaging the Judiciary in Building a Collaborative Response