Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking – Webinar Notes


Definition of Sex Trafficking from the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA):

“The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”

Or for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.


2013 Institute of Medicine and National Research Council Study

Myth Fact
Sex trafficking only happens overseas to young girls. Commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking occur every day in the US. Its victims – both girls and boys – live in cities and small towns across America.


Minors who are commercially sexually exploited or trafficked for sex are recognized as victims of crime and abuse. Sexual exploitation and sex trafficking are forms of child abuse, but the children and adolescents who are victims can still be arrested for prostitution, detained or incarcerated, and subject to permanent records as offenders in many states.


It’s easy for professionals who interact with minors to recognize victims, survivors, and youth at risk of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. Many teachers, doctors, nurses, child welfare workers, legal professionals, and others who interact with youth are unaware that CSEC and sex trafficking occur in their communities, or lack the knowledge or training to identify and respond to them.



“There is still a belief that older adolescents choose to do this…”


“What are some risk factors for Domestic child sex trafficking?”

  • Child Welfare/foster care involvement
  • Gang involvement
  • Sexualization of Children
  • Homelessness


Broad Categories of Risk Factors for Commercial Sexual Exploitation

  • Societal Risk Factors – Lack of awareness, sexualization of children, lack of resources
  • Community Risk Factors – Peer pressure, social norms, social isolation, gang involvement, or under-resourced schools, neighborhoods, and communities
  • Relationship Risk Factors – family conflict, disruption or dysfunction
  • Individual Risk Factors – History of child abuse, neglect or maltreatment, homelessness run away or “thrown-away,” LGBT, History of being system-involved (juvenile justice, foster care), stigma and discrimination


“There is no such thing as a Child Prostitute”


What do DMST survivors of say their greatest needs are?


According to a Center for Court Innovation study (2016), Characteristics and Needs of Youth in Sex Trade:

  1. Housing/utilities
  2. Employment/Education assistance
  3. Food/Money

Professionals will typically say mental health, treatment, and counseling.

Other Facts:

  • Average age when youth first traded in sex: 15.8 yrs
  • Disproportionately African American (70%)
  • While arrests for prostitution among this population was low (16%), they did have a history of other arrests (loitering/trespassing, larceny, lack of ID)
  • Childhood trauma – a common feature in respondents’ backgrounds.


What is Trauma?

Something that threatens the life or physical integrity of a child or someone important to the child (i.e.: parent or grandparent)


Long-term trauma can interfere with healthy development and affect a child’s:

  • Ability to trust others
  • Sense of personal safety
  • Ability to manage emotions
  • Ability to navigate and adjust to life’s changes
  • Physical and emotional responses to stress


Trauma Reactions:

  • Best understood as adaptations to survive
  • Are local in the context of trauma
  • Whatever takes to survive their experience and pain – resiliency
  • Trauma reactions often misdiagnosed or overlooked as symptoms of other mental illnesses


Now What? Trauma-Informed Systems:

  • National Council of Juvenile Family Court Judges and American Bar Association have policies about trauma-informed advocacy for children and youth
    • Recommend attorneys develop evidence-based approaches and practices
  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network ( – good sources of information
  • Help understand how youth feel, behave and present themselves
  • Understand that behaviors are normal reactions to abnormal experiences help to remove judgment


Becoming Trauma Informed

  • Change in the way we understand our work, structure our organizations, and interact with survivors
  • Requires specific awareness of how trauma can affect our own response and interactions with others
  • Requires intentional development of supports for ongoing reflection, learning, skill development, self-care to ensure that our interactions are consistent with our principles and help sustain us in the work.
  • Take into account that the environment in which services are delivered can affect how services are received.


Trauma-Informed Responses

Know how child’s trauma history influences behavior

  • Be aware of child’s trauma triggers
  • Understand how child’s behavior is often coping mechanism
  • Understand how trauma relates to controlling behaviors

Consider Child’s Chronological Age and Developmental Age

Enhance child’s Resilience

  • Help the child find mastery or success. Mastery helps build self-esteem crucial to maltreated children
  • Help child regulate feelings and emotions

Build Child’s Relational Capacity

  • Ensuring child maintains or develops deep emotional connection to at least one supportive adult
  • Focus on client’s functional ability.

Advocate for evidence-based treatments.

  • Seek trauma informed therapists


Usually done by the agency that first has contact with the child such as child welfare agencies.

Know local screening practice

Available screening tools – Screening Tool: Out of the Shadows

Identifying potential victims

  • Developmentally and age appropriate language
  • Most effective when rapport/sense of safety is established
  • Establishing trust, trauma-informed practice

Potential Questions to Help Identify Possible Victims

  • Were you told to do anything you did not want to do
  • Did anyone promise you something if you did? Who
  • Were you paid? Did you get to keep the money?
  • Were you ever hurt?
  • Did anyone say he or she would hurt you, your friends or family?
  • Where did you sleep? Was it in the same place every night?
  • Did you travel to difference places
  • What did you do at night?


Possible Questions for Youth Who Have Run Away from Foster Care

  • What efforts have been made to locate the youth?
  • Have the required reports to law enforcement been made?
  • How is the agency collaborating with NCMEC?
  • Where was the youth placed when he/she ran away?
  • What services or treatments was the youth receiving when he/she ran away?
  • Does the youth have any special needs or a disability or was there a need for any special screenings or assessments to determine if there is a disability or special need?
  • Was there any unaddressed trauma or behavioral health issues?
  • Was the youth connected to his or her biological family or other supportive adults?
  • Was or are there any concerns or evidence of involvement in sex trafficking?
  • What services will the child need when they return and what steps are being taken to arrange for those services?
  • Is the child’s previous caregiver willing to have the child return to the placement when he or she returns?


Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act:

Section 101: Identifying documenting and determining services for children and youth at risk of sex trafficking

Section 102: Reporting instances of sex trafficking to law enforcement within 24 hrs.

Section 103: Including sex trafficking data in AFCARS

Section 104: Locating and responding to children who run away from foster care

Section 105: Increasing information on children in foster care to prevent sex trafficking


State/Local Response Examples:

Michigan: Administrative Order. Each circuit court must develop a plan for reviewing cases involving children who are absent from placement.

Kentucky: Statute and Provisional Juvenile Court Rules of Procedure and Practice (JCRPP)

Specialized courts/dockets: NY, Los Angeles (STAR Court – youth who are in the delinquency system, and DREAM Court)



Safe Harbor Laws – 34 states have Safe Harbor Laws

ABA Safe Harbor Laws and Domestic Child Sex Trafficking report found:

  • 52% were aware of their state’s Safe Harbor Laws
  • 10% weren’t aware
  • 38% “I don’t know”

The primary goal of safe harbor laws is to: provide trauma-informed, youth-centered approaches that treat children who have been sex trafficked as victims rather than offenders.

ECPAT Guide to Drafting Safe Harbor Legislation, says Safe Harbor legislation should include:

  • Commercialized Sexual Exploitation of Children classified as abuse
  • Training to identify trafficking
  • Immunity from prosecution
  • Specialized services
  • Funding source


Typical Case Outcomes for Arrested Youth/Suspected DCST Victim

  • Referral to Services: 79%
  • Referral to Child Welfare: 76%
  • Delinquency adjudication: 39%
  • Diversion: 35%
  • Immunity from prosecution: 26%
  • Criminal Prosecution: 15%
  • Other 3%


Identified Challenges in Assisting Victims of DMST

  • Lack of Services:  73%
  • Lack of professionals’ knowledge: 63%
  • Victims are uncooperative: 45%
  • Gaps in existing law: 43%
  • Lack of coordination/collaboration: 38%
  • No funding to pursue training: 34%
  • Not a priority in this community: 27%
  • Other: 25%
  • Not a priority in this agency: 19%
  • Misidentification of victim’s age: 18%




Q/A Section and Discussion:

Statistics about foster children involved in trafficking:

  • 80% Foster Care kids are at risk with sex trafficking
  • 11-37% of kids who age out of the foster care system experience homelessness. And another 25-50% face unstable housing – which puts them at risk for trafficking.

National Center for Missing Exploited Children Research: 86% of the children reported to missing to NCMEC that were identified as likely being victims of trafficking and had run from a foster care placement.


Q: What is the most important thing for professionals interacting with victims, who don’t have any expertise (example: teachers) to understand about trauma?

A: From a lay perspective, most important thing to understand how trauma can affect children’s behavior and be careful of how we interpret behavior as an indication of any specific quality or inclination – they are reacting to the trauma and these are comping mechanisms. These children are acting out for good reason – and to treat the child accordingly.


Audience Comment: It is important to note that Safe Harbor means different things in different states. In some cases, it only means an affirmative defense. In some states, it is non-criminalization without any other service provided and in some states, it is funding for services, but they still are charged with prostitution- so many states say they have safe harbor without actually meeting the goals of ECPAT.

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