Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

Identify, Intervene, and Advocate: Human Services Workers' Role in Youth Sex Trafficking

Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

Identify, Intervene, and Advocate: Human Services Workers' Role in Youth Sex Trafficking

Article excerpt


Human trafficking is a global, criminal activity. The President of the United States has referred to it as "modern slavery" (Obama, 2012). Globally, individuals are trafficked for both labor and sex within and external to their passport countries. This manuscript focuses on sex trafficking, and more specifically, the sex trafficking of minors. The United States Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 (U.S. Department of State, n.d.), most recently reauthorized in 2013, purported that a three-pronged approach is needed to fight sex trafficking of children and adolescents both nationally and internationally: prevention, prosecution, and protection. As human services workers are uniquely positioned to assist victims and survivors through identification, prevention, and intervention, this manuscript will orient human services workers to the definition and experience of sex trafficking. The manuscript will then outline how human services workers can recognize, intervene, and advocate for child and adolescent victims and survivors.

A Definition: Human and Sex Trafficking

Numerous definitions and perspectives throughout the literature and legislation exist for human and sex trafficking. However, the U.N.'s (2000) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (also referred as the Palermo or Trafficking protocol) is the definition used for this article. Human trafficking or trafficking-in-persons consists of three factors: the act, the means, and the purpose. Human trafficking is the act of "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt" of a person through the means of threat, fraud, deception, abduction, coercion, "or abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person," (Europol, 2005, p. 10) for the purpose of exploitation (U.N., 2000).

Sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking in which individuals are exploited for sexual purposes. Sex trafficking is defined by United States (U.S.) federal law as "...a commercial sex act... induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person is induced to perform such act (U.S.C. [section]7102(8). This includes, but is not limited to, coerced prostitution, pornography, mail-order brides, sexual demonstrations or shows, and a commercial sex act. The U.N. (2000) distinguishes between adult and child sex trafficking. Under international law, a child, any individual under the age of 18, can never legally consent to sex. No region of the world is exempt from sex trafficking of minors, including the United States (Kotrla, 2010).

It is estimated that there are 20.9 million trafficked victims globally, with sex trafficking accounting for about 58% of all global cases reported (The United Nations ILO, 2012). The Department of Education (2013) notes that there have been documented cases of sex trafficking in all 50 states. Women and girls constitute approximately 98% of the individuals trafficked for sex, with approximately 25% accounting for individuals below age 18 (ILO, 2012). In the U.S., 83% of victims are US citizens (Kotrla, 2010). U.S. minors are bought, sold, and traded for prostitution, pornography, escorting, stripping, or other sexual services.

Risk factors for Sex-Trafficked Minors

Common characteristics that place minors at-risk for sex trafficking have been identified. Gender, race, age, economic status, education, and history of abuse and mental health issues have been found to be risk factors for sex trafficking domestically. Individuals under 18 are most at risk for sex trafficking, with the average age being between 11 and 14 years of age, with some as young as 5 (Kotrla, 2010). Moreover, sex trafficking in the United States has a racial component. Nelson-Butler (2015) argued that the intersection of gender, class, and age propels children of color into and retains them in commercial prostitution. …

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