Risk Factors and Indicators: Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children

Article originally published on MeetJustice.org on June 15, 2011.

No one should ever have to suffer a life of humiliation, despair, and captivity for someone else’s financial gain. But they do.

We want to see every single victim of human trafficking meet justice – we want to enable neighbors, family members, friends, teachers, and activists to take a stand against trafficking in their community- and most importantly, we want to prevent anyone else from ever having to suffer through victimization at the hands of traffickers.

Each week, we’ll cover the risk factors of those who might be susceptible to human trafficking and the indicators of those who are already being trafficked: from the child exploited on Backpage.com to the victim of forced labor in the restaurant kitchen down the street. Check in every Wednesday for a new victim profile.

Who’s at risk of CSEC?

There is no perfect profile of children at risk of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Reports and studies across the board have consistently found that the single shared factor of victims of CSEC is their age. However, there are some repeated patterns in risk factors for child victims of trafficking, including:

-A previous history of abuse: parental neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and violence between parents. Children often seek to escape abusive situations and end up turning to a trafficker who initially poses as a source of comfort.

Research has found that a majority of girls and adult women engaged in prostitution were sexually abused as children (Hidden in Plain View)

– Dysfunctional Family Life: parental drug use, poverty, and housing instability.

Parental Neglect, with unstructured/unsupervised childhood

Living in impoverished conditions: though victims of CSEC come from all different socioeconomic backgrounds, kids who are financially vulnerable face a greater chance of being lured by traffickers offering material and financial goods.

History of Running Away…

Runaway / throwaway adolescents are likely to become victims of physical assault and sexual exploitation (Tyler,Whitbeck, Hoyt & Cauce, 2004; Stewart et al., 2004).

Runaways are extremely vulnerable to falling victim to DMST as pimps look to prey on their physical and psychological vulnerabilities (Shared Hope International, 2009).

It is estimated that out of the 1.5 million runaways in the country, one third have been involved in prostitution at some time (Fang, 2005). It is no coincidence that the average age of run-aways (12 to 14) coincides with the average age of entry into prostitution (Shared Hope International, 2009).

…. Particularly if they’re females.

Girls on the street experienced significantly higher levels of physical and sexual abuse than boys did. (Chapple, Johnson & Whitbeck, 2004). One study found that at least 23% of females in their study had experienced sexual victimization on at least one occasion since being on the streets (Hidden in Plain View)

In almost every case of CSE, girls have an extensive history of running away. (Hidden in Plain View)

Who do pimps target?

Youth who are emotionally or mentally vulnerable, runaways, those who are in need of affection or financial help.

Indicators of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC)

Underage victims of sex trafficking are not readily apparent. Research by Stop it Now! Georgia pointed out that 88% of children who are sexually abused never disclose their abuse while they’re still children. (Hidden in Plain View)

  • Unexplained absences from school
  • Disengagement from education
  • Presence of older boyfriend/older male who is not a boyfriend
  • Presence of tattoos ‘marking her’ as personal property
  • Access to material things that they can’t afford to purchase on their own (jewelry, new clothes, shoes, technology)
  • Recurring STDs and other sexual health issues
  • Changes in temperament/mood
  • Drug and Alcohol Use
  • Going out late and staying gone for days at a time
  • Displaying sexualized behavior
  • According to the FBI, children who spend several hours online, particularly “latch-key” kids with little to no adult supervision, are at risk of being contacted by a sexual predator that might seek to exploit them either through pornographic images or physical encounters via e-mail, chatrooms, message boards, and other forums for online communication.

It should be noted that victims of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) are NOT prostitutes, nor are they criminals. They’re victims of sexual exploitation and are in desperate need of rehabilitation and restoration.

If you’re aware of someone who might be a victim of CSEC, call the Georgia Care Connection to get help for him or her.

Georgia Care Connection:


This blog is part of a series of victim profiles.

To read about the risk factors and indicators of forced labor, click here.
To read about the risk factors and indicators of sex trafficking, click here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s