Child Trafficking

One study found in a one-year review of 149 local trafficking victims from Alameda County, California, that 55% of the victims were from group homes for youth in foster care, and 82% had previously run away from home
multiple times.

Child sex trafficking occurs when a child under the age of 18 is involved in a commercial sex act, including prostitution, sexually explicit performance or production of pornography in exchange for something of value (money, food, clothing, shelter, drugs, alcohol, etc.).1 Labor trafficking is the exploitation of a person for labor or services through force, fraud or coercion. Labor trafficking victims are often forced into domestic servitude, agricultural work, restaurant work or factory work.2

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline,3 child trafficking occurs in every state across rural, suburban and urban communities as well as American Indian communities. Women and girls are victims in 85% of sex trafficking cases.4 Traffickers seek out vulnerable victims, particularly runaways or children placed in out-of-home care including shelter care, family foster care, group homes, residential treatment centers, and transition living group homes or apartments. One study found in a one-year review of 149 local trafficking victims from Alameda County, California, that 55% of the victims were from group homes for youth in foster care, and 82% had previously run away from home multiple times.5

Tracking the number of child sex trafficking victims is challenging at best. Child welfare agencies across the country report a range of tracking practices from agencies that don’t track at all, agencies that are in the process of developing tracking systems, and agencies that have informal tracking such as case notes in files.6 A small, but growing number, of child welfare jurisdictions are now including trafficking questions in their state reporting systems (SACWIS systems).7

Children and youth who are trafficked are vulnerable to severe sexual, physical, and emotional injuries that can lead to life-long consequences. They are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, substance abuse, unplanned or forced pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, incarceration, school drop-out, unemployment, and re-victimization.8,9

Children and youth who are trafficked are often difficult to engage and identify in services. Since many survivors have had multiple, often negative contacts with formal systems such a child welfare, they may associate these systems as unsafe and unsupportive. As such, advocates may be in better positions to offer help to survivors.

Children in foster care are disproportionately victimized by human trafficking. Despite widespread acknowledgement of the connection between foster care and human trafficking – it is estimated that 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims have a history in the child welfare system.10

  • Participate in training and education to learn more about the issues survivors of child trafficking experience and the specific ways you can help. Ideally, training will be alongside others who you can partner with to address concerns (e.g., educators, trauma specialists, child welfare professionals, public health providers).
  • Learn from the experiences of survivors themselves. Ask for your local program to invite a survivor who is willing to talk about their experiences and the kinds of supports that were helpful to them.
  • Identify the multi-pronged services that survivors will need in order to move forward. Housing, educational and vocational supports, mentoring programs to connect survivors to caring adults, and evidenced-based trauma-focused mental health treatment, medical care and reproductive health are just some of the many services needed.
  • Recognize and learn about the under-identified and underserved populations which include trafficked boys, LGBTQA youth, youth who are homeless or runaway, American Indian, and refugee, immigrant and youth who are undocumented. In addition to all of the other concerns about supporting children and youth who are trafficked, there will be additional considerations for these populations.
  • Understand “Safe Harbor” laws and find out if they are active in your state. Safe harbor laws were developed by states to address inconsistencies with how children who are exploited for commercial sex are treated. Safe harbor laws are intended to address the inconsistent treatment of children and ensure that victims are provided with services.
  • Learn what the potential indicators of a child or youth who is trafficked. The child may:
    • Show signs of physical harm;
    • Become depressed, fearful or withdrawn;
    • Have a history of running away or currently be on the run;
    • Have expensive clothing, jewelry, manicures, etc. that you haven’t seen before;
    • Begin spending time with an older boyfriend or girlfriend;
    • Be found in a hotel/motel;
    • Have new tattoos or branding;
    • Be performing work inappropriate for his or her age or not being compensated for work performed;
    • Become isolated from family, friends or sources of support;
    • No longer have control of his or her identification documents; and,
    • Makes reference to having a “pimp” or “daddy.”
  • If you see something suspicious, say something. If you suspect a child is a victim of trafficking, call 911 and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at: 1-(888)-373-7888. To report sexually exploited or abused minors, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s11 (NCMEC) hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST, or report incidents at
  • If a child discloses information that leads you to believe they are being trafficked, follow the same guidelines you would if they disclosed they were being abused. Assume that they are telling you the truth. Don’t promise that you won’t tell anyone else. But do reassure them that you will support them and stand by them.

If a child discloses information that leads you to believe they are being trafficked, follow the same guidelines you would if they disclosed they were being abused.

The Richland County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force

Richland County CASA, Columbia, South Carolina

Richland County CASA (RCCASA) developed an initiative aimed at combating human trafficking, an effort that has strengthened working relationships with law enforcement, prosecutors, and social service providers. RCCASA provides special training to raise awareness and help people to spot warning signs of human trafficking. Since October 2016, the program has trained 657 participants.

RCCASA devotes staff solely to advocate for child victims of human trafficking. The program coordinated training for the community of advocates, assisted law enforcement with prosecution, and helped social service agencies identify appropriate placements and provide heightened training to foster families.

Housed at RCCASA, the Richland County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force has grown from 15 members to more than 130. The Task Force has helped to change how law enforcement responds to children who have run away. This creative and collaborative approach has increased RCCASA’s organizational capacity through the creation of many community partnerships. Prior to the initiative, many child advocates were working in isolation within their respective agencies.

Recognized by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, this initiative gives children and youth at risk of human trafficking better educated and influential advocates on their side and a community of people looking out for them.

For more information, contact

Implementing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (P.L. 113-183) To Benefit Children and Youth12   

A collaborative effort of the Children’s Defense Fund, Child Welfare League of America, First Focus, Generations United, Foster Family-based Treatment Association and Voice for Adoption, this document provides a summary of the legal requirements around act.

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children13

The CyberTipline provides the public and electronic service providers (ESPs) with the ability to report online (and via toll-free telephone) instances of online enticement of children for sexual acts, extra-familial child sexual molestation, child pornography, child sex tourism, child sex trafficking, unsolicited obscene materials sent to a child, misleading domain names, and misleading words or digital images on the Internet. NCMEC continuously reviews CyberTipline reports to ensure that reports of children who may be in imminent danger get first priority.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)14

NCTSN is a federally funded child mental health service initiative designed to raise the standard of care and increase access to services for traumatized children and their families. They have developed resources for professionals, policymakers, and the public, including the 12 Core Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families – Adapted for Youth Who are Trafficked15 and NCTSN Bench Card for the Trauma-Informed Judge to Address Child Trafficking and Trauma16, which assists judges in their work with youth who have been trafficked.

National Human Trafficking Resource Center17

This site provides legal and social services to children, youth and adults who are survivors of trafficking as well as help to children, youth and adults currently being trafficked. It houses the national and state hotline for calls and tips related to human trafficking as well as a statistics related to the number of reports made state by state.

Polaris, Human Trafficking Issue Brief, Safe Harbor Laws18

Under federal law, a child under eighteen that is induced into providing commercial sex is a victim of trafficking and must be treated as such. State laws criminalize adults that have sex with children under statutory rape laws, however these laws were not consistently applied in cases where the adult purchased sex. The result was children, recognized under both state and federal law as victims of a crime, were arrested and convicted of prostitution. This site provides detailed information on safe harbor policies.

  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid.
  4. The Polaris Project tracking report.
  5. MISSSEY Resources
  6. Casey Family Programs, Addressing Child Sex Trafficking from a Child Welfare Perspective, (September 2014).
  7. Ibid.
  8. IOM (Institute of Medicine) and NRC (National Research Council) (2013). Confronting commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Available at:
  9. Lederer, L.J., & Wetzel, C.A. (2014). The health consequences of sex trafficking and their implications for identifying victims in healthcare facilities. Annals of Health Law, 23, 61-91.
  10. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  17. NCTSN Bench Card for the Trauma-Informed Judge to Address Child Trafficking and Trauma.
  20. MISSSEY Resources