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Sex Trafficking: Facts, Causes, Prevention

Updated: May 21

Author: Bao Pham

Among the many vicious forms of human trafficking, sex trafficking is significantly more common than most others. Many men, women, and children worldwide have fell victim to sex trafficking, leaving them in a traumatized state. To combat this, it is crucial to understand what it is, who is vulnerable to it, and how each of us can play a role in preventing it from happening.


Sex Trafficking: Definition and Facts

Sex trafficking involves the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion. Sex trafficking victims are subjected to severe physical and psychological trauma. Similar to other forms of human trafficking, sex trafficking victims are stripped of their autonomy, their dignity, and their basic human rights before being forced to commit sexual activities. Victims are subjected to severe physical and psychological trauma, leaving a devastating effect on their lives even after they are rescued.

In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline have identified a total of 7,499 cases of sex trafficking, making it the most common forms of human trafficking in the US for many years. Additionally, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimated that 1 in 6 endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims in 2019. On a global scale, the number of people being sexually exploited worldwide is about 4.8 million, according to an estimate by The International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation.


Victims of Sex Trafficking

Like in many other forms of human trafficking, sex traffickers are likely to prey on vulnerability to get their victims. Vulnerable people can come from any background, but certain demographics are more at risk.


Female: This demographic is the biggest known target for traffickers to target for this form of human trafficking. Women and girls, including those facing vulnerable circumstances like poverty, homelessness, or domestic violence, are targeted by traffickers who promise them a better life, only to subject them to exploitation.

Migrants/refugees: People with precarious circumstances and lack of legal protection are very easily exploited if they are not careful. Traffickers may target their financial or immigration status to coerce or force victims into committing sexual activities. The lack of understanding and awareness of foreign policies and customs may also contribute to this.

LGBTQ+ youth: LGBTQ+ individuals, especially those who are shunned or rejected by their families or communities, are disproportionately targeted for sex trafficking. Like other cases, vulnerability exploitation is how traffickers get victims: a lie of acceptance or protection can easily trick those not at their best psychological state into being exploited.

While female victims take up a major amount of identified victims, the National Human Trafficking Hotline believed that male victims make up half the amount of the estimated victims in total, including those that are not identified. LGBTQ+ male individuals contribute a significant number to this.

Children: Children under the age of 18 are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking due to their naivety and susceptibility to manipulation. Traffickers often target runaways, homeless youth, or those living in abusive environments.

It is also important to note that in cases where an individual engages in any of the specified “acts” with a child (under the age of 18), the means element for sexual exploitation is irrelevant, as the use of children in commercial sex is prohibited by law in the United States and most countries around the world.


Don’t Let Yourself and Others Become Victims

In the fight against sex trafficking, every individual has a role to play. Like the prevention of other human trafficking forms, preventing sex trafficking from happening requires a multi-aspect approach involving awareness, education, and collaboration between all involved parties. By doing the following steps, you can ensure the safety of yourself and everyone else around you:

Raise Awareness: Educate yourself and others about the signs of sex trafficking. Recognizing red flags and identify potential victims can be immensely helpful in taking down an illegal operation: people who do not have control over personal ID documents, those who are not allowed to come and go freely from an area, or those presenting visible signs of being physically abused can be good indicators of human trafficking victims in general. Keeping a cool head to prevent yourself from being exploited is also especially important.

Report Suspicious Activity: If you suspect someone is a victim of sex trafficking, or if you are a victim yourself, do not hesitate to report it. Contact local law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) to immediately report tips or seek assistance.

Support Vulnerable Communities: Work to address the root causes of vulnerability, such as poverty, homelessness, and lack of access to education and employment opportunities, may help people become less exposed to the threat of falling victim to sex trafficking. Support organizations that provide resources and assistance to at-risk populations.

Advocate for Policy Change: Supporting legislation and initiatives aimed at combating sex trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting traffickers can help create a harsher environment for traffickers to operate in. Advocating for increased funding for victim services and law enforcement efforts also helps keep potential victims safe and existing victims feel more comfortable.

Support Survivors: Offering support and resources to survivors of sex trafficking is also very crucial to the fight against sex trafficking. Organizations like Because Organization plays a crucial role in helping survivors rebuild their lives, starting with helping them relieve their trauma and integrate with society again.



National Human Trafficking Hotline, Dept. of State

Image sources: Royalty-free images from


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