Understanding Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking violates human rights and harms health. Public health practitioners can use strategies to prevent this problem. Get resources to help your community.
Sex trafficking exploits women, men, and children across the United States and around the world. Preventing this violation of health, safety, and human rights is necessary for the well-being of people and communities. People can learn more about the problem, and prevention practitioners can use resources to help prevent sex trafficking.
Sex Trafficking Problem
Sex trafficking — a type of human trafficking — is a serious public health problem, placing a toll on the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. It is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act” by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
Severe forms involve force, fraud, or coercion and such cases involving young people under the age of 18.
Victims can come from all backgrounds and become trapped in different locations and situations.
- The majority of victims are women and girls, though men and boys are also impacted;
- They include all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, citizens, non-citizens, and income levels;
- They are trapped and controlled through assault, threats, false promises, perceived sense of protection, isolation, shaming, and debt; and
- They do not have to be physically transported between locations to be victimized.
Risk & Impact
Trafficking victimization and perpetration share risks and consequences associated with child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and gang violence — all major public health problems that professionals across sectors are working to prevent through local, state, and national efforts.
Perpetrators of sex trafficking often target and manipulate people who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe situation, or searching for a better life. For example, youth with a history of abuse and neglect or who are homeless are more likely to be exploited.
Evidence-based strategies exist to prevent types of violence, and they may also reduce sex trafficking.
What Communities Need to Know
State and local leaders, decision-makers, and groups can implement comprehensive efforts that:
- Encourage healthy behaviors in relationships,
- Foster safe homes and neighborhoods,
- Reduce demand for commercial sex, and
- End business profits from related transactions.
Violence prevention practitioners, researchers, and professionals can support these efforts. They can monitor trends, research risks and protective factors for sex trafficking, evaluate interventions, and implement strategies to stop sex trafficking based on best-available evidence.
Access the following resources to inform and guide actions to prevent sex trafficking. Incorporating this information and best practices into existing prevention efforts may help improve health and well-being in your community.
Child Maltreatment, Intimate Partner Violence [PDF 1.76MB], and Sexual Violence Definitions [PDF 2.1MB]
Consistent definitions for violence prevention practitioners and researchers to monitor incidence, examine trends, measure risk and protective factors, and inform prevention and intervention efforts.
Rape Prevention and Education Program (RPE)
RPE’s goal is to strengthen sexual violence prevention efforts at local, state, and national levels. It operates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and four U.S. territories.
Essentials for Childhood
A framework for communities committed to the positive development of children and families and to preventing child maltreatment and neglect.
Changing Course: Preventing Gang Membership
Guide for community leaders, police officers, teachers, and community-services providers to understand what research says about keeping kids out of gangs and to make informed decisions about how to best use limited resources to prevent gang joining.
Office on Trafficking in Persons
Administration for Children and Families initiative seeks to prevent human trafficking in all forms and ensure that victims have access to the services they need.
Rescue and Restore Tool Kits
Guidance provided to health care providers, social services organizations, and law enforcement on their roles in stopping trafficking.
Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States 2013-2017 [PDF 3.48MB]
This five-year plan provides guidance for strengthening coordination, collaboration, and capacity across government and non-government groups dedicated to providing support to trafficking victims.
Trafficking in Persons Report 2015
This resource provides an updated look at the nature and scope of trafficking and the range of government actions to confront and eliminate it.
Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 [PDF 393KB]
This law was passed and reauthorized to stop trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude, and to reauthorize federal programs to prevent violence against women.
U.S. Laws on Trafficking in Persons
Acts passed to provide tools to monitor and stop trafficking and to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts.
Expanding and Coordinating Human Trafficking-Related Public Health Research, Evaluation, Education, and Prevention
Policy statement from the American Public Health Association for professional schools, societies, and certifying bodies for to improvement of research, training, and anti-trafficking community interventions.
Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States: A Guide for the Health Care Sector
This Institute of Medicine report summarizes the trafficking problem of minors and includes examples of health care sector practices to prevent and respond.
Human Trafficking in America’s Schools
This U.S. Department of Education guide helps school officials understand trafficking, recognize risks, and develop protocols and partnerships to prevent exploitation.