Sex Trafficking in the United States

Sex trafficking involves the use of threats, violence, restraint, or other acts of coercion in order to compel victims to engage in commercial sexual activity against their will. Victims may include both men and women, adults and children. Within the United States, approximately 3,000 incidents of sex trafficking are reported to the police each year.

Under U.S. federal law, the act of inducing any person under the age of eighteen to participate in commercial sexual activity is classified as sex trafficking.


Prosecution of Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking may be difficult to detect or prosecute. For example:

  • Victims of trafficking may be reluctant to go to the police or fearful of retaliation or of being charged with prostitution if they report the crime.
  • The victim may be an immigrant with poor English language skills.
  • If the victim does not have valid U.S. immigrations status, the victim may fear deportation.

The fears of trafficking victims are not unfounded, and many cases exist of police agencies disregarding human trafficking laws, instead treating the victim of sex trafficking as a prostitute. Although efforts have been made to educate law enforcement agencies about human trafficking, and to help them properly identify victims of trafficking, problems still occur.

When sex trafficking is identified, the offenders may face serious charges. In addition to charges relating to operating commercial sex services, the offenders may face more serious charges if the victims are minors. They may face additional charges for acts of violence against the victims, or for unlawfully detaining the victims in order to prevent them from leaving or seeking help.

Who May Become a Victim of Sex Trafficking

People may become victims of sex trafficking in a number of ways. Common examples include:

  • A person may enter a domestic relationship with a partner who later forces or otherwise coerces the person to perform acts of prostitution;
  • A person may be offered employment, such as a modeling contract or position as a dancer, only t be coerced into commercial sexual activity by the employer;
  • A person may be forced to enter into acts of prostitution or other sexual activity by a parent or family member.

People who are members of vulnerable populations are at high risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking. For example, runaway minors, undocumented immigrants, refugees and homeless individuals are at higher risk of sexual exploitation.

Help for Trafficking Victims

A victim of sex trafficking may be able to get help from a domestic violence shelter or similar organization, including help reporting the sex trafficking activity to the police, obtaining a protective order against the offender, and finding safe housing. If the victim is from a foreign nation and lacks legal status in the United States, the victim may be able to get assistance from an immigration law clinic.

If the victim of sex trafficking is a foreign national, even if the victim was brought into the country illegally, the victim may be able to obtain special visa status that will allow the victim to remain in the United States in order to assist with the prosecution and to testify at court proceedings. The visa, called a T Visa, was created by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, which passed in 2000, and the visas are available to up to 5,000 victims of sex trafficking each year.

If a victim of sex trafficking qualifies for a T Visa, after holding that visa status for two years the victim becomes eligible to apply for U.S. permanent residency.

Copyright © 2018 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on May 8, 2018.