The reality of child sex trafficking is that most victims know their exploiter


“You just have to dance, we can make a little money like that.”

That’s what Shandel, then 13, said her boyfriend told her at a party he had taken her to some 12 years ago.

And that’s how it all began, Shandel, now 25, recalled.

Gradually, the man she thought of as the only person who loved her or even cared for her, demanded more. Much more.

And she said he would physically abuse her if she refused.

Even now, it is difficult for Shandel, who would only use her first name for privacy reasons, to talk to strangers about what she was forced to do with men.

She had left an abusive situation at home – her dad was on drugs, and her mother had “her own issues,” Shandel said.

The man she left home for “was the first person that felt like who loved me.”

‘It wasn’t love’

“In hindsight, it wasn’t love, but it felt like love,” she said.

“It was like, if I didn’t do these things, then he wouldn’t love me.”

Shandel is among the many victims of sex trafficking, the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

While the term trafficking evokes for many images of children kidnapped off the street, smuggled across borders and moved from place to place, that’s rarely the case, social workers and researchers say.

Many who work with the children or who study the problem prefer the term commercial sexual exploitation of children to trafficking, as it offers a much clearer picture of what’s happening.

Most victims know their exploiters

The children most vulnerable are those living in poverty, often known to child protection services, in foster care, in generally unstable conditions, social workers and researchers say.

Many have been sexually abused as children before they become victims.

“As much as stories might come out about conspiracies to target people who are relatively safe, relatively less vulnerable, the truth is on the hotline,” said Robert Beiser, the strategic initiatives director for sex trafficking at Polaris, which runs the US National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Most victims of child sex traffickers will know their exploiters, experts say. File image.
Most victims of child sex traffickers will know their exploiters, experts say. File image. Credit: sestovic/Getty Images/iStockphoto


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