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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sex Trafficking of Children in the United States: Overview and Issues for Congress

Kristin M. Finklea
Specialist in Domestic Security

Adrienne L. Fernandes-Alcantara
Specialist in Social Policy

Alison Siskin
Specialist in Immigration Policy

The trafficking of individuals within U.S borders is commonly referred to as domestic human trafficking, and it occurs in every state of the nation. One form of domestic human trafficking is sex trafficking. Research indicates that most victims of sex trafficking into and within the United States are women and children, and the victims include U.S. citizens and noncitizens alike. Recently, Congress has focused attention on domestic sex trafficking, including the prostitution of children—which is the focus of this report.

Federal law does not define sex trafficking per se. However, the term “severe forms of trafficking in persons,” as defined in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA, P.L. 106-386) encompasses sex trafficking. “Severe forms of trafficking in persons” refers, in part, to “[s]ex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age....” Experts generally agree that the trafficking term applies to minors whether the child’s actions were forced or appear to be voluntary.

The exact number of child victims of sex trafficking in the United States is unknown because comprehensive research and scientific data are lacking. Sex trafficking of children appears to be fueled by a variety of environmental and situational variables ranging from poverty or the use of prostitution by runaway and “thrown-away” children to provide for their subsistence needs to the recruitment of children by organized crime units for prostitution.

The TVPA has been the primary vehicle authorizing services to victims of trafficking. Several agencies have programs or administer grants to other entities to provide specific services to trafficking victims. Despite language that authorizes services for citizen, lawful permanent resident, and noncitizen victims, appropriations for trafficking victims’ services have primarily been used to serve noncitizen victims. U.S. citizen victims are also eligible for certain crime victim benefits and public benefit entitlement programs, though these services are not tailored to trafficking victims. Of note, specialized services and support for minor victims of sex trafficking are limited. Nationwide, organizations specializing in support for these victims collectively have fewer than 50 beds. Other facilities, such as runaway and homeless youth shelters and foster care homes, may not be able to adequately meet the needs of victims or keep them from pimps/ traffickers and other abusers.

In addition, it has been suggested that minor victims of sex trafficking—while too young to consent to sexual activity with adults—may at times be labeled as prostitutes or juvenile delinquents and treated as criminals rather than being identified and treated as trafficking victims. These children who are arrested may be placed in juvenile detention facilities instead of environments where they can receive needed social and protective services.

Finally, experts widely agree that any efforts to reduce the prevalence of child sex trafficking—as well as other forms of trafficking—should address not only the supply, but also the demand. Congress may consider demand reduction strategies such as increasing public awareness and prevention as well as bolstering investigations and prosecutions of those who buy illegal commercial sex (“johns”). In addition, policy makers may deliberate enhancing services for victims of trafficking. Congress may address these and other issues if policy makers choose to take up the reauthorization of the TVPA, which expired at the end of FY2011.

Date of Report: August 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 47
Order Number: R41878
Price: $29.95

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