Further, once a child is CSEC-identified, there is no guarantee she or he20 will receive
therapeutic services or even return to his or her community. In some cases where a CSEC youth
is removed from his or her trafficker due to arrest, for example, “by the time the legal
establishment realizes that a child has been arrested, pimps have bonded the child out and put him
or her back to work.”21 These factors make it difficult to determine the number of commercially
sexually exploited children in the United States, as well as the rate at which the problem is
growing. However, based on the available data, researchers estimate that at least 100,000
children are sexually exploited across the country annually.22
C. Learning to Spot the Warning Signs of Exploitation
Child advocates should be familiar with the common warning signs that a child is a
victim of exploitation. These include a child’s unexplained absences from school, chronic
runaway behaviors, references to frequent travel to other cities, “lack[ing] control over his or her
schedule,” providing answers to questions that sound coached or rehearsed, visible bruises on the
child, inappropriate dress, references to sexual knowledge inappropriate for the child’s age, a
noticeably older “boyfriend,” and a fearful or depressed demeanor.23 Additional warning signs
include the child having access to new clothes, luxury items or large amounts of money with no
explanation, “[b]rands or scarring indicating ownership (such as tattoos),” and withdrawal from
family or friends.24
Perpetrators may gain access to potential victims through the Internet and social media,
and sometimes use other children or adolescents to help “recruit” other victims.25 Just as children
may become commercially sexually exploited through different media, ongoing commercial
sexual exploitation looks different for each child.26 Some children are kidnapped and held by
their perpetrators, while others remain in or sporadically return to the community, and there are
even situations where the suspected perpetrator resides within the family home.27 Perpetrators
also use different ways to maintain control over exploited children; some rely solely on
THEIR SHOES: UNDERSTANDING VICTIMS’ MINDSE TS AND COMMON BARRIERS TO VICTIM IDEN TIFICA TION (2010), available at
http://www.amsa.org/AMSA/Libraries/Committee_Docs/Understanding_Victims_Mindsets.sflb.ashx (outlining “physical and
psychological reasons why trafficked persons cannot or will not leave a trafficking situation,” including fear and traumatic bonding to
20 Given the difficulties related to capturing data on this issue, the gender breakdown of CSEC-victims remains unclear. Some
researchers have found that boys comprise half of all exploited children. See Jodie Gummow, 10 Surprising and Counterintuitive
Facts About Child Sex Trafficking, ALTERNET,
http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/10-surprising-and-counterintuitive-facts-about-child-sex-trafficking?page=0%2C0 (last visited
Mar. 24, 2014) (summarizing results of the 2008 John Jay College study and 2013 ECPAT-USA study). For the purposes of this
Article, the authors have used both male and female pronouns.
21 Zack, supra note 17, at 2.
22 U.S. Department of Education to Host Discussion on Federal Agencies’ Efforts to Stop Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation
of School-Aged Youths, U.S. DEP’T EDUCATION (Feb. 5, 2013), http://www.ed.gov/news/media-advisories/us-department-education-
host-discussion-federal-agencies%3F-efforts-stop-human-t [hereinafter U.S. Department of Education to Host Discussion] (citing
statistics collected by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).
23 U.S. DEP’T OF EDUC., HUMAN TRAFFICKING OF CHILDREN IN THE UNITED STATES: A FACT SHEET FOR SCHOOLS,
http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oese/oshs/tipfactsheet91913.pdf (last visited Jan. 23, 2013) [hereinafter HUMAN TRAFFICKING].
24 CHILDREN’S ADVOCACY CTR. OF SUFFOLK CNTY., SEEN: COMMERCIAL SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN,
http://www.suffolkcac.org/assets/pdf/CSEC.pdf (last visited Nov. 15, 2013).
25 HUMAN TRAFFICKING, supra note 23; see also Feuerberg, supra note 4 (“As young people nowadays are eager to share their inner
lives on social media, traffickers look for opportunities to exploit vulnerabilities and offer false understanding and false love.”).
26 KA TE WALKER, CAL. CHILD WELFARE COUNSEL, ENDING THE COMMERCIAL SEXUAL EXPLOI TA TION OF CHILDREN: A CALL FOR
MULTI-SYSTEM COLLABORATION IN CALIFORNIA 13 (2013), available at