Although kidnapping can happen sometimes, the majority of kids being sold for sex in the United States are going home and sleeping in their own beds at night. And more often than not, they’re sold by someone they know and trust (like a significant other, a parent, a relative, a neighbor, or an online friend).

Although you should always be aware of your surroundings in parking lots (for a variety of reasons), this is NOT a common way that kids are lured into sex trafficking. In fact, most child sex trafficking victims aren’t even kidnapped – they’re groomed into it and sold by someone they know and trust. And 82% of child sex traffickers today say they find their victims online.

Child sex trafficking and exploitation are types of sexual abuse that occur when an adult abuses a position of power, vulnerability, or trust with a child for sexual purposes and monetary gain.


This can happen in many different ways, but most kids/teens are given things like attention, gifts, drugs, money, status, and affection in exchange for performing sexual activities the trafficker can monetarily gain from.


Even if a child/teen thinks they are doing this by choice, by law, any commercial sex act with a minor is considered child sex trafficking, regardless of willingness.

Grooming happens when an adult abuses their power dynamic with a child to befriend them and slowly lower their inhibitions. This can happen over days, weeks, or even years until the child trusts the trafficker enough to do as they’re asked. Grooming is the gateway to child sex trafficking and most of it today takes place on social media platforms.




  1. BEFRIEND: Promise of love, friendship, acceptance, and gifts
  2. INTOXICATE: Glamorous lifestyle, dates, drugs, and alcohol
  3. ALIENATION: Offer “freedom” from parents
  4. ISOLATION: Create a divide from friends and family
  5. DESENSITIZE: Moral compass is compromised
  6. CAPITALIZE: Victimized by sex trafficking

Child traffickers are people who take advantage of a child’s innocence and emotional vulnerability by grooming and coercing the child into selling their body for sex.

Traffickers are commonly referred to as “pimps” or “boyfriends,” but can actually be any race, gender, or age. And they commonly have a history of abuse themselves. They’re typically people that have easy access to youth and are almost always someone the child knows AND trusts.

Traffickers do this for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it’s a very lucrative business; kids are easily groomed, and they see them as a renewable resource.

Some kids are more vulnerable than others, but ANYONE can be a victim of child sex trafficking. You can be any race, any gender, and come from any socioeconomic background.

In fact, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually exploited by the age of 18. And the average age of entry into the commercial sex market is 14 years old, AKA middle school. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Although it can happen to anyone, there are factors that can make you more vulnerable:

  • Kids who have been abandoned or kicked out of the house
  • Kids that are homeless (1 in 4 street youth sell sex for basic needs)
  • Kids who were previously incarcerated
  • Kids that are truant from school
  • Kids with very little parental oversight
  • Kids suffering from addiction
  • Insecure youth looking for approval (the “outcast” or “loner”)
  • Foster kids or runaways (1 in 6 runaways are victims of CSEC)
  • Kids with a history of sexual abuse or molestation (70–90% of CSEC victims have a history of sex abuse)

Yes, every gender is vulnerable. One of the biggest misconceptions is that only girls are at risk for sexual exploitation. However, boys are being exploited at an alarming rate via gaming systems thanks to the freedom of anonymity.

Every case is different, but girls and boys generally enter in different ways. Girls are commonly brought into it through grooming and emotional manipulation. However, boys are more likely to enter it through sextortion or “survival sex,” which is sex for food, water, shelter, or protection.

Sextortion is when someone uses explicit photos or any other evidence of your sexual activity as a way to blackmail you for money or sexual favors. This is illegal and also a very common tactic used in the grooming process. It often results in someone becoming a victim of sex trafficking.

Child sex trafficking is an underground business that operates in plain sight. Pay close attention if a friend has any of these drastic changes in personality, behavior, relationships, or appearance.



  • New friends with different lifestyles
  • Spends time with an unrelated adult
  • Dates significantly older men or women
  • Relationships that are dominating, controlling, or abusive
  • Someone else controls schedule and social interactions
  • History of sexual abuse or domestic violence
  • Makes excuses for an abuser’s behavior



  • Starts running away or skipping school
  • Argues with authority figures
  • Becomes withdrawn and uncommunicative
  • Starts using drugs and/or drinking
  • Becomes hypersexual
  • Isolates themselves from friends, family, or community
  • Frequently on the move or has an erratic schedule
  • Becomes fearful of a specific gender
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Isolation, insisting on more privacy
  • Emotional outbursts, not just mood swings
  • Depression
  • Falling or failing grades



  • Drastic change in personal hygiene
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Strange new tattoos or “branding”
  • Explicitly sexual social media profile
  • Dresses inappropriately for the occasion/season
  • Suffers from malnutrition, dehydration, or exhaustion
  • Displays gang affiliation (symbols or certain colors)
  • Physical injuries, such as cuts and bruises



  • New clothes, shoes, jewelry, or electronic devices that cannot be accounted for
  • Has many hotel keys (for no apparent reason) or prepaid credit cards/gift cards
  • Has a fake ID, no ID, or is not in control of his/her ID
  • Has multiple (prepaid) cell phones

Victims are unable to report for a variety of reasons. This is why it’s so important to step up and report any suspicions you might have.

  • They are addicted to drugs
  • They are in debt to their traffickers
  • Their trafficker threatened to kill them or a family member
  • They are fearful of authority and law enforcement
  • They are unfamiliar with their surroundings and don’t know who to tell
  • They may not know or understand that they are being trafficked
  • They may have developed trauma bonds with their exploiter

If you suspect child sex trafficking, report it right away. Reporting what you see and know will help determine if an investigation needs to be opened. (If you are in immediate danger, call 911.)


Call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733

Get help. Don’t go through this alone.

  • Talk about the violence to an adult you trust
  • Create a safety plan to protect yourself and/or your siblings
  • Know that others have had similar experiences
  • Know and understand that the violence is not your fault
  • Don’t be afraid to get the police involved


Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline



You can report all forms of child sexual exploitation anonymously at



First of all, you are not alone and this is not your fault. If someone, even a family member, is touching you without consent, especially in a private area – this is abuse. You can make a report by calling 911 or by visiting


If you are not ready to make an official report, we urge you to share your situation with a trusted adult, such as a parent or teacher. There are reporting measures set in place within schools and youth programs – so remember, you don’t have to do this alone!


Ask yourself, do they…

  • Hurt you physically?
  • Constantly call or text you to ask where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with?
  • Check your phone, email, or social media messages without your consent?
  • Tell you who you can or can’t be friends with?
  • Threaten to “out” your secrets, like your sexual orientation or gender identity?
  • Stalk you online or keep track of what you’re doing on social media?
  • Pressure you to sext?
  • Say mean or embarrassing things about you in front of other people?
  • Act jealous or try to stop you from spending time with other people?
  • Have such a bad temper that you’re afraid of making them mad?
  • Constantly accuse you of cheating or doing something wrong?
  • Threaten to hurt you or hurt/kill themselves if you break up?

Leaving an abusive or toxic relationship is hard to do, but it’s necessary. Always prioritize your safety before making any big steps:

  • Break up in a public place.
  • Tell a friend or family member that you plan to break up and when
  • Let them know where you will be or have then with you
  • Arrange to call a trusted friend(s) after the breakup and share how it went
  • As appropriate, block or “unfriend” on all social media and cell phones
  • Never be afraid to call the police

Helping a friend get out of an abusive/toxic relationship can be incredibly frustrating. Your friend may not realize they need help, or they might even think the abuse is a form of love. Remember that all secrets are not meant to be kept. If something feels wrong, speak up! We know it’s hard, but it’s important to never turn your back on a friend!



  • DON’T remain silent.
  • DON’T be judgmental or make them feel ashamed.
  • DON’T give them an ultimatum if they continue the relationship.
  • DO listen to what your friend has to say.
  • DO offer to get information or help for them.
  • DO make sure your friend knows you are there for them and want to help.
  • DO tell them specific things you saw and how it made you feel worried for their safety.

If you have a friend in a bad relationship, they may not realize they need help. It’s important to make sure you listen and support them. Never turn your back on friend who needs help.

  • Listen, pay attention, and trust your instincts.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, they are your friend.
  • Be clear that your friend is not to blame.
  • Be supportive without guilting or shaming your friend.
  • Offer information or help for your friend.
  • Remember that not all secrets are meant to be kept.
  • Recognize that sexual exploitation and trafficking can often be surprisingly difficult to “see” when it is happening to you. Leaving can be difficult. Remember to be patient.

This can be a difficult situation because people are often blind to emotional manipulation within relationships. Always listen to what they have to say and try to offer help in a nonjudgmental way. Our suggestion would be to read up on specific manipulative/abuse tactics such as gas lighting, false job opportunities, psychological abuse, catastrophizing, etc. This way when you two are talking about issues within the relationship you can have facts to fall back on when pointing out situations that shouldn’t be permitted.

Trust is built over time and is easily lost with poor decision making. If you know this person in real life and not just online our suggestion would be to proceed cautiously using your own judgement. Some questions to ask yourself would be:

  • Are they respectful?
  • Do they confide in you?
  • Do they respect boundaries?
  • Are they consistent?
  • Do they gossip about other people?

While it is fine to have a social relationship with these two ages, it is statutory rape for the relationship to turn physical.

If there is evidence of physical abuse (scratches / bruises) you can make an anonymous call to Child Protective Service 1-800-387-5437 or call 911 if someone is in immediate danger. If you aren’t ready, we encourage you to share your situation with a trusted adult like a parent or teacher. There are reporting measures set in place within schools and youth programming – so remember, you don’t have to do this alone!

If someone is making death threats, you can report these to the local police so that a record is already created. This may help the investigative and legal process by giving law enforcement a starting point if anything ever happens from a threat delivered by this person.

First of all, your friend should know that this is not ok and more importantly, NOT HER FAULT. If she is a minor, she can report it anonymously at If she’s not ready, we urge her to tell a trusted adult (like a parent, teacher, counselor, etc.) Blackmailing her like this is very common tactic people use to manipulate their victims into allowing this behavior to continue. Please let her know she is not in the wrong and you are not judging her at all.


82% of traffickers say that they used the victimized persons’ social media profiles to gain access to their interests. Take note of these safety tips to make yourself less vulnerable to exploitation:

  • Never geotag your photos/videos with your current location.
  • Disable GPS services on apps that publish your location (i.e., Snap Maps).
  • Double check the background of photos and videos before posting to make sure there’s no identifying information (addresses, phone numbers, school names, etc.).
  • Never give out your password to anyone else.
  • Remember, privacy settings do not guarantee privacy.
  • Always close out of all your apps to ensure personal info is not left for others to see.
  • Make sure you personally know everyone you’re friends with on social media.
  • Block any adult who sends you inappropriate DMs.
  • Always report someone who makes you feel uncomfortable online to a trusted adult.
  • Never let someone you don’t know convince you to move to a 2nd app.
  • Never share your address or phone number with online friends or strangers.
  • Remember, images can be forwarded to more than just one person, Snapchat photos do not always disappear, and someone can screen record a live conversations on FaceTime. Keep in mind, any private photos you send could be sold to exploitive sites and made public forever.

Remember, ages, pictures and online profiles are easily faked, so be wary of online relationships. Never give out any personal or identifying information (like an address, school name, or birthday) and always tell a parent about the relationship.

Remember that online profiles, age restrictions, and pictures are easily faked, so be wary of online relationships. However, if this person treats you with respect & never asks you to do things you wouldn’t normally do, we suggest moving your conversations off Discord and back to your gaming console. The messaging features within the games themselves have a few more safety features to help keep you protected online. We also suggest you talk about this with a trusted adult.

Caches in established areas such as parks, monuments, or suburban landmarks are usually safe. Make sure you are sticking to caches that were logged within the last two weeks and always tell an adult when and where you’re going.

When meeting online friends in person, we suggest ALWAYS taking a trusted adult with you, even if you’ve done research on your own. Remember, ages, pictures, and online profiles are easily faked.

NO. Remember that not all conversations online stay private, and nude photos are commonly sold online to exploitative websites. And once it’s posted online, it can be hard to remove it.

This is sextortion and it’s illegal. Never let anyone use your nude photos to intimidate or manipulate you. If you’re underage, visit to report it.

Ask yourself, do they…

  • Send inappropriate sexual messages to you (a minor)?
  • Ask extremely personal questions or talk about your body parts?
  • Ask for nude photographs?
  • Pressure you to sext?
  • Make you feel uncomfortable?
  • Ask you to move your conversation to a different app?
  • Stalk your online activities?

If something feels wrong, it most likely is. Trust your gut and don’t let anyone convince you to do something you’re not comfortable with. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Stop responding.
  • Keep the evidence and record the dates and times.
  • Block the individual.
  • Tell a parent or trusted adult.
  • Review the “Terms and Conditions” section of the online platform that you are using and then follow the procedures for reporting.

Online emotionally abusive relationships can be just as dangerous as those face to face. Follow these steps: (1) stop responding (2) keep the evidence of abusive behavior in case they are needed in the future and (3) block the person.


How to report: if you have experienced cyber-bullying, which can often be within a relationship, you can report this at


CyberBully Hotline


Crisis Text Line

Text: 741741


Suicide Helpline


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Helpline


The Trevor Project has a great “Coming Out” handbook you can find at

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a great resource for everything involving domestic violence. Whether you need help reporting, creating an escape plan, or just need someone to talk to, visit or call 1-800-799-7233 to learn more.

Abuse can be hard to spot when it’s happening to you.


Learn more about the signs of Domestic Violence at

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