Human Trafficking Prevention Month: What is Sex Trafficking?

By USCRI January 17, 2024

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a heinous crime that involves the exploitation and coercion of individuals for various purposes, such as sexual exploitation. Nearly all trafficking stems from some sort of vulnerability. Human traffickers often target disadvantaged individuals with the fewest legal and social protections, exploiting their economic hardships, lack of education, or immigration status. The lack of legal status of many migrants leaves them vulnerable both in transit and after arrival in their destination country. Victims and survivors can be subjected to physical and psychological abuse, with their basic human rights systematically violated. Despite ongoing efforts, human trafficking remains a pressing challenge.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Definition of Sex Trafficking

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), as amended 22 U.S.C. § 7102, the first comprehensive U.S. federal law to address human trafficking, defines sex trafficking as:

• The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion;

o The term “commercial sex act” means any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.

• If the person is under 18 years of age, any commercial sex act, whether or not force, fraud or coercion is involved.


Sex Trafficking Red Flags

Survivors of sex trafficking include all races, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, and nationalities, which means that not only women and girls can be victims and survivors of sex trafficking. Male victims are far less likely to be identified. LGBTQIA+ boys and young men are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking.

Because victims may fear for their safety and well-being or have concerns about the criminal justice system, legal system, or other social services, sex trafficking is an underreported crime. Recognizing red flags is crucial in identifying potential cases of sex trafficking. Here are some common indicators:

1. Signs of physical abuse or coercion: Victims may show physical signs of abuse, such as bruises, injuries, or other indicators of violence. They may also exhibit signs of being controlled or coerced.

2. Fearful or anxious behavior: Victims may appear fearful, anxious, or submissive, especially when in the presence of their traffickers. They may avoid eye contact and seem hesitant to speak openly.

3. Isolation from friends and family: Traffickers often isolate victims from their social support networks, making it difficult for them to seek help or assistance.

4. Frequent movement: Victims of sex trafficking may be moved frequently, either within a locality or across different regions or countries. This movement is often designed to evade law enforcement detection.

5. Lack of control over personal identification: Victims may not have control over their identification documents, such as passports or IDs, which are sometimes held by traffickers.

6. Inability to speak freely: Victims may be hesitant or unable to speak openly due to fear of repercussions, language barriers, or coercion by traffickers.

7. Inconsistent stories or scripted responses: Victims may provide inconsistent or rehearsed responses when questioned about their circumstances, as they may have been coached by traffickers.

8. Presence of an older, controlling companion: Victims may be accompanied by a controlling individual who appears to be older, especially if the age difference is significant. This person may control the victim’s actions and interactions.

9. Evidence of drug or alcohol dependency: Traffickers may use drugs or alcohol to control and manipulate victims, leading to signs of dependency.

10. Minors engaged in commercial sex acts: The involvement of minors in prostitution or other commercial sex acts is a clear indicator of sex trafficking.


It is important to approach any potential red flags with sensitivity and discretion. If you suspect someone is in a potential trafficking situation, contact a relevant anti-trafficking organization, such as the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888, via text at 2333733, or USCRI’s trafficking services: 1-888-373-7888 or via email at [email protected] and/or [email protected]. Avoid confronting potential traffickers directly, as it may put the victim at greater risk. Reporting your suspicions to the appropriate authorities can help ensure a proper investigation and the safety of the victim.


Also Read: Human Trafficking Prevention Month: What is Labor Trafficking?


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