Minor sex-trafficking is a form of human trafficking whereby a person under the age of 18 is forced to engage in a commercial sex act. In the United States each year, thousands of children – at the average age between 13-17, are trafficked against their will or consent, and forced to provide sexual acts to multiple buyers a night.
Florida ranks third in the country – behind California and Texas – among states with the highest reported activity of human trafficking, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Specifically, the Tampa Bay area’s tourism industry, adult entertainment industry, large scale events, and international seaports and airports create a lucrative and highly accessible environment for minor sex-traffickers.
Child sex-trafficking is a horrific crime that robs the innocence of its victims and causes significant physical, mental and emotional trauma. Studies have shown that victims of sex trafficking have a significantly higher mortality rate than similar demographics. Victims of minor sex-trafficking are most likely to have run away from home or are homeless. Florida has approximately 30,000-40,000 teenage runaways and throwaways each year, some being abused by a family member or forced out of their homes. In the Tampa Bay area, a large percentage of trafficked children are runaways.
One out of three runaway teens will be lured by a sex-trafficker and forced to prostitute within 48 hours of being on her own, according to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children (NISMART-2). Young runaways may be approached by a trafficker who compliments them, offers a meal, a place to stay or a job. The Trafficker then induces the victim to engage in commercial sex acts, such as prostitution, exotic dancing/stripping, pornography or survival sex. They are forced to do this in hotel rooms, private residences, adult clubs, vehicles and on the street. Some are sold abroad and some are brought into areas hosting large sporting events and conventions.
Each year Tampa Bay area law enforcement rescue many children involved in minor sex-trafficking. Sadly, there are few local rehabilitative facilities in which to place them. The girls are either placed in runaway shelters, domestic violence shelters or foster care, and with no rehabilitative treatment to help them heal, they are very likely to run away again, back to their Traffickers, due to trauma bonding.
Criminals who engage in human trafficking include international crime organizations, mom-and-pop businesses, family members, and individuals simply looking to make money. Human trafficking criminals include U.S. citizens, members of the victims’ own ethnic and national community as well as international cartels.
Minor sex-traffickers target victims through the Internet and false advertisements of employment, as well as at malls, bus stops, fast food restaurants, near runaway shelters and outside juvenile court. Recruitment tactics include promises of love, employment, gifts, housing, food, and belonging.
Traffickers look for vulnerable children and teens, then use multiple means to control them, such as physical violence, isolation, drug and alcohol dependency.
Unlike drugs and arms traffickers, human traffickers can continue to exploit their victims after the initial point of sale. A person can be sold over and over again.
The ILO updated estimate is 49.6 million living in modern slavery as of 2021; of which 4.9 million are women and girls and 1.5 million are children in forced commercial sexual exploitation. If there were no buyer, the nightmare of minor sex-trafficking would not exist. Inconceivably, buyers often confess that they thought the child was a willing participant in what was happening. The buyer (customer, John) directly contributes to the trauma the victim endures by contributing money to the trafficker and physical and emotional pain to the victim. A buyer focused, demand reduction strategy is critical to ending this nightmare.