In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sex Trafficking

  • Introduction
  • Literature Reviews
  • Data Sources
  • Definitions and Measurement
  • Economics
  • LawMaking
  • Law Enforcement and Government Response
  • Victim Identification
  • Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking
  • Protection from Exploitation
  • Victim Services
  • Men and Boys
  • Traffickers

Criminology Sex Trafficking
Megan Parker, Edward J. Schauer, Ila J. Schauer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0147


Sex trafficking is the forcing or coercion of persons into the commercial sex trade. The victims of sex trafficking are primarily women and children (both girls and boys). According to international treaty law, any child involved in commercial sex is considered to be sex trafficked because he or she cannot legally consent: Within the United States, sex trafficking is defined as commercial sex acts induced by force, fraud, or coercion; or the forcing of an individual who has not yet reached eighteen years of age to perform a commercial sex act. The US Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines any person under the age of eighteen as a child. In recent years, the average entry age into the commercial sex industry has been between the ages of twelve and fourteen; therefore, it may be surmised that child sex trafficking is rife within the United States. Child sex trafficking is also known by designations in the recent literature as “sex trafficking of domestic minors” or “domestic minor sexual exploitation.” Force, fraud, and coercion are the means of control used by traffickers to tempt, snare, and victimize individuals into commercial sex work. A trafficker may be anyone who is willing to profit from the exploitation of another human being: No specific trafficker profile has been identified, as traffickers may be citizens of destination countries, foreign nationals, men or women, acquaintances, strangers, family members, and intimates. These individuals may be involved at one stage or several stages in the human trafficking process, including the recruitment, transportation, harboring, selling, or exploiting of victims. Sex traffickers frequently lure victims by promising them chances to improve their lives. Others kidnap their victims and force them into commercial sex venues. With the exponential increase in the economic marginalization of families worldwide, many women and children are extremely vulnerable to being victimized by sex traffickers. Along with this vulnerability, high profits and low risk are the two crucial factors that drive the commercial sex trade and aid traffickers. While several impressive international treaty laws have been passed since the year 2000, because the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the US government’s primary diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking, the TVPA in fact probably has the most international impact on international antitrafficking efforts.

Literature Reviews

As researchers began to look more closely at the problem of sex trafficking into and within the United States, they found a great discrepancy between the published numbers of victims. They also found that definitions were not uniformly understood, that laws were not routinely followed, and that victims often went unidentified. Campagna and Poffenberger 1988 describes the horrors discovered in a five-year study of the abuse of children through commercial sexual exploitation. Estes and Weiner 2001 is an exhaustive study that chronicles this issue as it played out in several countries. Since then, researchers have decried the dearth of solid, well-documented research and the lack of standardization in identifying the victims of sex trafficking. The precise and critical literature review Goździak and Collett 2005, as well as the global survey research in Laczko and Goździak 2005, presents further data strongly corroborating previous research. Schauer and Wheaton 2006 offers an overview of the literature that reveals how far-reaching the problem is and how ill defined the component terms are. Albanese 2007 is a special report to the Department of Justice that addresses the abuse of children through sex trafficking, and Goździak and Bump 2008 spotlights and enumerates the problems that arise in trying to analyze this crime. Finally, the issue of domestic trafficking is raised in Clawson, et al. 2009 as an emerging problem because it deals with US citizens and the sex trafficking of youth within the United States.

  • Albanese, Jay. 2007. Commercial sexual exploitation of children: What do we know and what do we do about it? Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    This overview identifies little reliable evidence on this “low visibility” crime and no comprehensive efforts to collect the data. Albanese offers a working definition of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, tracks the progression of the abuse, and offers insight into the organization of trafficking.

  • Campagna, Daniel S., and Donald L. Poffenberger. 1988. The sexual trafficking in children: An investigation of the child sex trade. Dover, MA: Auburn House.

    Written in 1988, this book may be considered the bellwether in the area of child sex trafficking. The conclusion of a five-year nationwide study, this work includes interviews of varied populations and presents case studies for practitioners. The resulting work is a true portrayal of this crime against children.

  • Clawson, Heather J., Nicole Dutch, Amy Solomon, and Lisa Goldblatt Grace. 2009. Human trafficking into and within the United States: A review of the literature. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services.

    This comprehensive review of current literature on human trafficking into and within the United States focuses on the findings of the social sciences concerning identifying and serving trafficking victims. Specifically targeted is the phenomenon of “domestic trafficking” (trafficking involving US citizens), the impact on these youth, and the availability or effectiveness or both of available services.

  • Estes, Richard J., and Neil Alan Weiner. 2001. The commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania, School of Social Work, Center for the Study of Youth Policy.

    This exhaustive 260-page document presents first-generation research on the sexual exploitation of children in three countries. With the view of identifying the nature and extent of this phenomenon, the researchers offer an excellent overview of the problem. The report concludes with eleven recommendations for future study.

  • Goździak, Elżbieta M., and Micah N. Bump. 2008. Data and research on human trafficking: Bibliography of research-based literature. Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ., Walsh School of Foreign Service, Institute for the Study of International Migration.

    This bibliography by Goździak and Bump was an ambitious project undertaken with the help of the National Institute of Justice. The goal of a comprehensive search of the literature, an identification and classification of the research, and a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses incumbent in the existing data is accomplished in this document.

  • Goździak, Elżbieta M., and Elizabeth A. Collett. 2005. Research on human trafficking in North America: A review of literature. International Migration 43.1–2: 99–128.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0020-7985.2005.00314.x

    Considered by many to be the pioneer researcher in the area of human trafficking, Goździak offers a literature review that begins to define terms and measure data. An awareness of the dearth of systematic and rigorous research appears to drive this review. The article also brings into focus the gaps evident in policy and research on, and services available to, the victims of human trafficking.

  • Laczko, Frank, and Elżbieta M. Goździak. 2005. Data and research on human trafficking: A global survey. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Migration.

    This compilation of global research on human trafficking is thought to be the premier work on the subject. With the goal of evaluating the nature and quality of research conducted to that point, the book offers a look at research needs and problems as well as suggesting ways to create more robust research.

  • Schauer, Edward J., and Elizabeth M. Wheaton. 2006. Sex trafficking into the United States: A literature review. Criminal Justice Review 31.2: 146–169.

    DOI: 10.1177/0734016806290136

    With this literature review, Schauer and Wheaton examine the extent and impact of the expense, in both human and economic terms, of sex trafficking. They find that the subject is neither well defined nor well researched. Among their recommendations is a shift from the standard prostitution-enforcement paradigm to a victims’ services perspective.

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