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4 Truths About Human Trafficking and Where We Go from Here

4 Truths About Human Trafficking and Where We Go from Here

Perpetrators of human trafficking target young boys and girls during the most vulnerable times in their lives

The Office on Trafficking in Persons reports that human traffickers disproportionately target at-risk populations including individuals who have experienced or been exposed to other forms of violence (child abuse and maltreatment, interpersonal violence and sexual assault, community and gang violence) and individuals disconnected from stable support networks (runaway and homeless youth, unaccompanied minors, persons displaced during natural disasters). Traffickers lure young boys and girls with promises of the things these children are searching for most - protection, family, love and affirmation.  

60% of all child sex trafficking victims have histories in the child welfare system

The National Foster Youth Initiative (NFYI) reports that 60% of all child sex trafficking victims have histories in the child welfare system and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reports that during 2016, 86% of child sex trafficking victims reported to NCMEC were in the care of social services or foster care when they went missing.  Children without families to make them feel loved and cared for are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers.

The average age for girls entering the sex trade is 12 and the average age of children involved in sex trafficking when recovered by law enforcement is 14

Traffickers send current victims into hospitals, schools, and congregate care settings to recruit new boys and girls to victimize. They search for very young boys and girls because their young age makes them more vulnerable. 

Key federal anti-human trafficking laws:

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)
TVPA is probably the most significant anti-human trafficking legislation ever passed. TVPA defines a human trafficking victim as a person induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion.  The Polaris Project reports that TVPA also:

  • mandates restitution be paid to victims of human trafficking;

  • further works to prevent trafficking by establishing the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which is required to publish a Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report each year. The TIP report describes and ranks the efforts of countries to combat human trafficking;

  • established the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, which assists in the implementation of the TVPA; and

  • protects victims and survivors of human trafficking by establishing the T visa, which allows victims of human trafficking, and their families to become temporary U.S. residents and eligible to become permanent residents after three years.

The Mann Act
The Mann Act made it a crime to transport women across state lines "for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose."

The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act
The Preventing Sex Trafficking Strengthening Families Act requires title IV-E agencies to develop policies and procedures to identify, document, and determine appropriate services for children under the placement, care, or supervision of a child welfare agency and who are at risk of becoming sex trafficking victims or who are victims of sex trafficking. 

Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA)
JVTA establishes systems for improving the response to human trafficking and  strengthens services for victims, such as  the Department of Health and Human Services national human trafficking hotline.


Going forward…

Human trafficking is a crime that takes place in silence but has piercing impact.  Ending human trafficking requires effective coordination of efforts at the national, state and local levels to protect potential victims and to help heal its victims. 


Federal law must continue to take special recognition of the vulnerability of homeless youth and youth in the child welfare system, hold human traffickers accountable, and assure continued improvement of the infrastructure necessary to combat human trafficking.  It is also imperative that courts impose mandatory sentences for sex offenders to help combat the sexual exploitation of children.

Increased funding should be designated for protection, treatment and support of victims, as well as for anti-human trafficking efforts.  Funding should be available that increases protection and services available to minor victims. A comprehensive victim services strategy incentivizes and supports cross-system services, and guarantees that sufficient funds are set aside for trafficked adolescents and young adults who need both protection and trauma informed recovery resources. The allocation of victim services funding should be informed by private community-based organizations that have first-hand knowledge of the volume and needs of minor trafficking victims.    

Interagency task forces are working to determine the nature and extent of trafficking in and between states and to recommend legislative and policy responses. State legislators need to enact state laws that:  make trafficking a state felony offense, provide protections and essential services for trafficked women and girls, create statewide interagency task forces to determine the nature and extent of trafficking in the state and to recommend legislative and policy responses, and regulate travel services providers that facilitate sex tourism.  Law enforcement efforts need to be coordinated to stop human trafficking across state lines and provide expertise and support to law enforcement in combating human trafficking in and through their individual states.  The Polaris Project website is an excellent resource for up to date legislation pending in each state. 


Experts have worked to develop and implement best practices that provide protections and essential services for trafficked children and young adults.  

In order for victims of human trafficking to receive the services and supports they need they must first be identified and therefore professionals must have access to tools for screening and assessing victims and potential victims.  

We know that survivors of human trafficking need permanent families and mental health care along with additional needs that are unique to trafficking victims and are responsive to their circumstances and experiences.  Unfortunately, the evidence base about how to serve this population is scant (HHS, ACYF, 2013; Institute of Medicine & National Research Council, 2013). There are a few things we know for sure regarding programs and services for survivors of human trafficking: programs and services must be victim-centered, trauma-focused and flexible enough to meet the unique needs of children who have been trafficked.  Experts suggest that it may take many entries into care before a young person stays and receives the benefit of treatment and care.  It is important that services and funding support the ongoing efforts to engage the young person in care and that the approach not be a single or limited episodes of care.  Security is a very important component of the program.  Discretion regarding the location of the program is key and to the extent possible all services should be available in one place to eliminate the need for travel and should include extensive recreation programs and family engagement.  Programs must be prepared to treat co-occurring disorders including substance abuse and PTSD as examples.  It may be important to have heavy staffing patterns including overnight since the young men and women may have reversed sleep patterns. Programs should help the young person re-imagine who they are as a person and not as a possession of another person.  Flexibility with programming and funding is key as our sector works to identify best practices for caring for survivors. 

Additional Resources

The Office on Trafficking in Persons has developed ten ways that anyone can help to end human trafficking. 

Preventing, Identifying, and Responding to Human Trafficking provides information about how agencies, organizations, and individuals can get involved with the effort to prevent human trafficking and identify and support victims.

Child Welfare Information Gateway's (2017) Human trafficking and child welfare: A guide for child welfare agencies, is an excellent publication.

  See the Polaris Project's priorities

The views, information and opinions expressed herein are those of the author; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Accreditation (COA). COA invites guest authors to contribute to the COA blog due to COA's confidence in their knowledge on the subject matter and their expertise in their chosen field. 

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