help raise awareness on an issue of national importance with serious health and safety implications.
Despite the gravity of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States, these problems currently are not well understood or adequately addressed. Many factors contribute to this lack of understanding. For example, commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States may be overlooked and underreported because they frequently occur at the margins of society and behind closed doors. Their victims often are vulnerable to exploitation. They include children who are, or have been, neglected or abused; those in foster care or juvenile detention; and those who are homeless, runaway (i.e., children who leave home without permission), or so-called thrown-away (i.e., children and adolescents who are asked or told to leave home). Children and adolescents affected by commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking can be difficult to reach. The absence of specific policies and protocols related to commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors, coupled with a lack of specialized training, makes it difficult to identify victims and survivors of these crimes. Victims and survivors may be distrustful of law enforcement, may not view themselves as “victims,” or may be too traumatized to report or disclose the crimes committed against them. Moreover, most states continue to arrest commercially exploited children and adolescents as criminals instead of treating them as victims, and health care providers and educators have not widely adopted screening for commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors. Finally, a lack of awareness among those who routinely interact with victims and survivors ensures that these crimes are not identified and properly addressed. As a result, the true scope of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors within the United States is difficult to quantify.
Despite the challenges of identifying these youth, a number of efforts are under way to serve child and adolescent victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. This report highlights several noteworthy and emerging, albeit isolated, examples. The report also underscores how a lack of research on commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors hampers work in this area. For example, little is known about how much trauma is sustained by victims and survivors of these crimes and the mental, physical, educational, and financial implications of such trauma over time. Furthermore, few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of treatment programs. As a result, evidence-based prevention or intervention programs are lacking, as is consensus on specialized services for victims and survivors of these crimes.