Child sex trafficking research and statistics

StreetLightUSA provides a safe place of healing for sexually exploited children.

StreetLightUSA provides a safe place of healing for sexually exploited children. Credits: Stock Xchange-doriana_s

Sex trafficking of minors is the most egregious form of child abuse and is often preceded by other forms of abuse.  Research indicates that many victims of sexual exploitation have previoiusly experienced:

  • Childhood sexual abuse (Simons and Whitbeck, 1991)
  • Physical abuse (Silbert & Pines,1982)
  • Emotional abuse (Roe-Sepowitz, in press)
  • Parental alcohol and drug use (Dalla, 2001)
  • Domestic violence, neglect, or abandonment (Dalla, 2003)
  • Running away from home, homelessness (Nadon, Koverola, & Schludermann, 1998)
  • Economic need/poverty (Hardman, 1997)

Survivors of sex trafficking are at risk for a number of negative consequences as a result of experiencing forced prostitution. These consequences include:

Physical health issues (Jeal & Salisbury, 2004):

  • Injury resulting from violence perpetrated by pimps and customers (Dalla, 2003; Raphael & Shapiro, 2004)
  • Physical pain from frequent sexual activity and stress.
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Drug addiction (Schaffer and DeBlassie, 1984) and related health issues (e.g. asthma, Hepatitis C, skin infections)
  • Stress-related pain (e.g. tension headaches, back pain, stomach problems)
  • Poor diet

Ongoing physical abuse (Silbert & Pines,1982)

Relationship issues (Williamson & Cluse-Tolar, 2002)

  • Manipulation
  • Fear
  • Trauma bond (i.e. Stockholm Syndrome)
  • Codependency
  • Poor boundaries
  • Trust issues

Mental health issues

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (Farley & Barkan, 1998)
  • Dissociation (Roe-Sepowitz, Hickle, & Cimino, 2011)
  • Development of poor coping skills including drug use and other forms of self harm (Young, Boyd, & Hubbell, 2000)
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Explosive disorders/violence

Prevalence of sex trafficking:

  • Sex trafficking generates $32-91 billion in profits worldwide (Kotrla, 2010).
  • The U.S. is one of the top 3 destination countries for human trafficking activity (Green, 2008), and we know that approximately 40% of arrests for prostitution and commercialized vice occur in the West.
  • Approximately 10 million youth sold sexual acts for some form of exchange in 1999 (ECPAT, 1999; Willis & Levy, 2002).
  • In 2007, 1160 juveniles were arrested in the United States for prostitution/commercial sex with 147 of those juveniles being under the age of 15 (FBI). However, it is likely that these statistics only represent a small percentage of those actually involved in prostitution as juvenile prostitution is difficult to detect as it is more likely than adult prostitution to be underground and involve a complex network of multiple offenders (Finkelhor & Ormrod).
  • Vice units across the country can often identify hundreds of underage girls on the streets who are compelled to be victims of child-rape-for-profit 10-15 times or more every night.  Vice estimates that many times that number are likely being advertised for sale online.

Care options for the survivors

  • Victims of sex trafficking are often arrested and with no other placement options available, are taken to jail. This process treats them as criminals instead of victims of abuse and exploitation.  See also:

A brief history of prostitution laws and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

  • Other victims of sex trafficking who are unable to return home may be placed in the foster care system; this may not always be an adequate placement as the girls often need a highly secure environment (safe from pimps and traffickers) and more intensive treatment following trauma experienced for the children in the system and may not be the most appropriate immediate placement for girls upon exiting the sex industry.
  • For a rare few, there are residential facilities designed to care for the immense needs of the survivors and bring them to restoration.

Streetlight USASM

  • StreetLight USA is a Center for Excellence and Treatment for  up to 48 girls, 11-17, who have been recovered from sex trafficking.
  • It is a gated facility with 24/7 security.
  • It provides an alternative to jail for law enforcement who want to remove girls from forced prostitution.
  • Girls are currently provided with safe housing, medical care, education, counseling and mentoring, life skills training, and assistance transitioning to a lower level of care.
  • StreetLightUSA offers uniquely targeted services to a population that is otherwise underserved in Arizona.
  • StreetLightUSA meets a need identified by Shared Hope International’s Report Card on Sex Trafficking, as they have highlighted the lack of adequate facilities to care for the victims of forced prostitution.
  • StreetLightUSA offers one piece of the multi-faceted solution that is needed for the immense issue of child sex trafficking in the United States.  Find out more about StreetLightUSA’s national movement, Campaign13, to create greater awareness of the plight of children who are trafficked.



Dalla, R. L. (2001). Et tú brutè? A qualitative analysis of streetwalking prostitutes’ interpersonal support networks. Journal of Family Issues, 22(8), 1066-1085.

Dalla, R. L. (2003). When the bough breaks…:Examining intergenerational parent-child relational patterns among street-level sex workers and their parents and children. Applied Developmental Science, 7(4), 216-228.

ECPAT. (1999). A step forward. Bangkok, ECPAT. Brooklyn, NY.

Farley, M., Barkan, H., (1998). Prostitution, violence and posttraumatic stress disorder. Women and health, 27(3), 37-49.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2009). Uniform crime report: Crime in the United States 2007. Retrieved December 4,2009, from

Finkelhor, D., & Ormrod, R. (2004).  Prostitution of juveniles: Patterns from NIBRS.

Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.

Hardman, K. (1997).  A social work group for prostituted women with children.

Jeal, N., & Salisbury, C. (2004). A health needs assessment of street-based prostitutes: Cross-sectional survey. Journal of Public Health, 26(2), 147-151. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdh 124

Social Work with Groups, 20, 19-31.  doi: 10.1300/J009v20n01_03

Nadon, S. M., Koverola, C., & Shludermann, E. (1998). Antecedents to prostitution:

Childhood victimization. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 13, 206-221.

Roe-Sepowitz, D. E. (in press). Juvenile entry into prostitution: The role of emotional abuse. Violence Against Women.

Schaffer, B., & DeBlassie, R. R. (1984). Adolescent prostitution. Adolescence, 19, 689-696.

Silbert, M. H., & Pines, A. M. (1982). Entrance into prostitution. Youth and Society, 13, 471-500.

Simons, R. L, & Whitbeck, L. B. (1991). Sexual abuse as a precursor to prostitution and victimization among adolescent and adult homeless women. Journal of Family Issues, 12, 361-379.

Williamson, C., & Cluse-Tolar (2002). Pimp-controlled prostitution. Violence Against Women, 8(9), 1077-8012. doi: 10.1177/107780102401101746

Willis, B. M., & Levy, B. S. (2002).  Child prostitution: Global health burden, research needs, and interventions. The Lancet: Public Health, 359, 1417-1422.

Young, A. M., Boyd, C., & Hubbell, A. (2000). Prostitution, drug use, and coping with  psychological distress. Journal of Drug Issues, 30(4), 789-800.

Contributors to this article:  Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, Kristina Hickle

Comments are closed.