When we talk about child abuse, our thoughts go to the most common forms of trauma – emotional, sexual, and physical – that children may endure from the adults responsible for their wellbeing. At the same time, another type of abuse, often entwined with those previously listed, can go unnoticed and unspoken. Called one of the most hidden crimes of child maltreatment in US, the commercial sexual exploitation of children, often known as child sex trafficking, occurs when a person is “recruiting, harboring, transporting, obtaining, patronizing, soliciting, or [the] provision of a person under 18 years old for a commercial sex act.”

During commercial sexual exploitation, victims are sexually assaulted or photographed/filmed for pornography in exchange for money or items of monetary value. Additionally, they may experience both physical and emotional abuse from adults involved in the provision or solicitation of these sexual acts. Child trafficking is a difficult subject to discuss for many in the child welfare system, and the most pervasive myths persist that traffickers typically do not know their victims before trafficking begins.

In reality:

  • Family members are likely to be a child’s first trafficker, bringing them into the world of commercial sexual exploitation. According to the Polaris 2018 Fact Sheet, 27% of sex trafficking cases reported to the USA’s National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2018 were instances of familial trafficking. Furthermore, in 2018 and 2019, familial trafficking was the second highest reported means of entering the world of commercial sexual exploitation. ·
  • Worldwide, the Counter Trafficking Data Collective reported that 41% of child trafficking involved a close member or relative of the child as the perpetrator. ·
  • An analysis of familial sex trafficking published in the Journal of Family Violence in 2018 shows that when trafficking occurred by family members, children were most often exchanged for illegal drugs. The children studied “demonstrated a high severity of abuse as measured with the Sexual Abuse Severity Score, with higher severity of abuse for children living in rural communities.”
  • An already abusive parent or adult family member may escalate to abusing their child through subjecting them to commercial sexual acts

Familial trafficking has had a significant impact on children and families involved in the child welfare system. Throughout the ongoing session of the Texas Legislature, TACFS is advocating for change by sharing news and success stories of child and families helped by prevention and early-intervention programs provided by community organizations — and we are working with legislators to support continued, sustainable investments in these critical efforts. Learn more here.