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Sexual Exploitation & Sex Trafficking of Minors

According to a recently released Institute of Medicine (IOC) and National Research Council (NRC) report, Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States, sponsored by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States are commonly overlooked, misunderstood, and unaddressed forms of child abuse.”1 This abuse has been found to have both short- and long-term physical, emotional, and legal consequences.

Definition

The IOC/NRC report defines commercial sexual exploitation (i.e., survival sex) and sex trafficking (i.e., prostitution) of minors as a range of crimes that includes

  • recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, and/or maintaining (acts that constitute trafficking) a minor for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation;
  • exploiting a minor through prostitution;
  • exploiting a minor through survival sex (exchanging sex/sexual acts for money or something of value, such as shelter, food, or drugs);
  • exploiting a minor through sex tourism; and
  • exploiting a minor by having her or him perform in sexual venues (e.g., peep shows, strip clubs).

Risk Factors

Using an ecological framework, the IOC/NRC identified a range of risk factors for young people’s involvement in sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.

Individual

Relationship

Community

Societal

History of child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment

Homeless, runaway, or “throwaway youth”

LGBT youth

History of systems involvement (e.g., juvenile justice, child welfare)

Stigma and discrimination

Family conflict, disruption, dysfunction

Peer pressure

Social norms

Social isolation

Gang involvement

Under-resourced schools, neighborhoods, communities

Lack of awareness of commercial exploitation and sex trafficking

Sexualization of children

Lack of resources

Response

The IOC/NRC report emphasizes the importance of viewing children who experience sexual exploitation and sex trafficking as victims and not as criminals, but suggests that the laws in many states may result in the arrest of these children and adolescents. Further, the lack of policies and protocols for identifying and responding to youth at risk for victimization, as well as the lack of awareness about the problem among educators, health personnel, businesses, and the general public, provides additional challenges for addressing the problem effectively.

Recommendations

The IOC/NRC report recommends the following actions to help address sexual exploitation and sex trafficking for children and youth in the United States:

  • Increase awareness.
  • Strengthen the law’s response to support young people as victims of abuse.
  • Strengthen the law’s response to deter demand, including holding accountable those exploiting, trafficking, and soliciting the sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of youth.
  • Strengthen research to better understand, prevent, and intervene.
  • Support multisector and interagency collaboration.
  • Create a digital information sharing platform.

View the full report, a synopsis, a myth and fact factsheet, and more by visiting this website.

Note: Content adapted from Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. (2013). Confronting commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

1 Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. (2013). Confronting commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. (P. 1)

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