About Child Sex Trafficking
Child sex trafficking is the buying and selling of any person under the age of 18 for the purpose of sexual exploitation. That encompasses a child being recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, patronized, solicited, or maintained to perform a commercial sex act. A child can never be responsible for, or complicit in, their own abuse.
Children in Maryland are exceptionally vulnerable to trafficking. Individual vulnerabilities include housing instability and homelessness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, low self-esteem, social isolation, and untreated mental health or substance abuse in the family. Children in the child welfare system, including foster care, are disproportionately at risk.
In Maryland, these factors are compounded by the state’s disparity of extreme poverty and extreme wealth, along with the increased presence of gambling facilities. The intersection of a major seaport, international airports and interstate highways used to transport children within and without Maryland further foster an illicit marketplace for children.
Frequently Asked Questions
Essentially, child sex trafficking is the buying and selling of any person under the age of 18 for the purpose of sexual exploitation. That encompasses a child being recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, patronized, solicited, or maintained to perform a commercial sex act. A child can never be responsible for, or complicit in, their own abuse.
The U.S. Department of Justice states that: “Victims frequently fall prey to traffickers who lure them in with an offer of food, clothes, attention, friendship, love, and a seemingly safe place to sleep. After cultivating a relationship with the child and engendering a false sense of trust, the trafficker will begin engaging the child in prostitution, and use physical, emotional, and psychological abuse to keep the child trapped in a life of prostitution.”
While no child is immune from the threat of child sex trafficking, especially given the proliferation of smart phones and digital technology, a 2020 brief by Casey Family Programs finds that child welfare involvement, running away, and child sexual abuse are some of the primary risk factors for sexual exploitation. Studies show that between 70% and 90% of sexually trafficked youth have a history of child sexual abuse. One survivor aptly noted that being in foster care was a training ground for human trafficking, as it taught her that she was “attached to a check.”
Other risk factors include: emotional or physical abuse; parental alcohol and substance use (sometimes parents traffic children to pay for alcohol or drugs); difficulties at school; exposure to domestic violence; history of exploitation in the family or community; and neglect (lack of supervision, care, and basic necessities). LGBTQ youth are also at particularly high risk, in part because, having been rejected by their families, they may be experiencing homelessness and engage in sex to meet their basic needs of survival. Youth in foster care seeking connection with other adults also can fall prey to the tactics of human traffickers, who target children with minimal social support and low self-esteem.
The most common indicators that a child may be being sexually trafficked include the following:
- Chronic truancy, running away and homelessness
- Excess cash and/or the possession of expensive items, especially hair, manicures and mobile phone, with no known source of income
- Multiple cell phones and social media accounts
- Signs of branding by a trafficker, including tattoos, jewelry and clothes
- Hotel room keys
- Dramatic personality change; evasive behavior, especially around a “new boyfriend.” talk about being “taken care of”
- Disengagement from school, sports, community
- Provocative clothing, sex toys, multiple condoms or other sexual devices
- Lying about age or possessing false identification
Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which receives tips about potential situations of sex and labor trafficking and facilitates reporting that information to the appropriate authorities in certain cases. It also connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services and supports to get help and stay safe.
Children are trafficked by peers, family members, romantic partners, acquaintances, and strangers. Traffickers target children and adolescents for grooming, often over an extended period of time. Traffickers target vulnerable children, secure their trust, fulfill their needs, isolate them from potential support, and eventually exert total control over them, all the while working to normalize the abuse.
Recruitment can and does occur everywhere—in school, at home, malls, sporting events, and parties, as well as in shelters and detention facilities—and is conducted both in person and online, where traffickers lure young people with the offer of friendship, romance, or jobs, according to Polaris study. When the trafficker has established sufficient control, children are sold at private parties, illicit massage businesses, hotel and motel rooms, strip clubs, trade shows, truck stops, and other venues.
Sex trafficking is inherently traumatic. At a minimum, survivors require educational and therapeutic aftercare services that are trauma informed.5 The devastating consequences for children include: long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and even death. A 2018 peer-reviewed study found that the most commonly recorded diagnoses for trafficked children were post-traumatic stress disorder (22%) and affective disorders (22%), while documenting a high prevalence of physical violence (53%) and sexual violence (49%).
A report authored by the University of Maryland School of Social Work concluded that children in Maryland are exceptionally vulnerable to trafficking. Specifically, the report found that more than 670 reports of child sex trafficking were reported to local social services departments throughout Maryland between 2014 and 2019 alone. 93 percent of the alleged victims were female, 87 percent were between the ages of 14 and 17, and more than half were people of color.
In addition to the risk factors described above, the adjacency of extreme poverty and extreme wealth, along with the increased presence of gambling facilities, foster an illicit marketplace for children. These risks factors are compounded by the intersection of a major seaport, international airports and interstate highways used to transport children within and without the state.
Learn how Araminta empowers survivors like Becca by surrounding them in restorative relationships, offering long-term personalized care, and providing evidence-based, trauma-informed services.