On any given day in 2016 there were an estimated 40.3 million people in modern slavery across the world, with women and girls accounting for 71% of victims. People looking for work and a better standard of living are often deceived, forced and coerced in to such forms of modern slavery as forced labour, debt bondage, domestic servitude and commercial sexual exploitation. Women and girls made up more than 99% of victims of forced sexual exploitation. Moreover more than 1 million of these victims (21%) were children under the age of 18. Child victims are often difficult to detect by both law enforcement and child protection agents, as such the true figure of children in commercial sexual exploitation is likely to be much higher than the current estimate. Blu was 13 years old when she began seeing an older boy that lived near her school. This boy began forcing Blu to have sex with other men, subjecting her to physical violence when she refused. Though other people in her life – including her mother – knew about her prostitution, no one believed that she was being forced. It was only when she left school at 16 and moved away that she could escape.
Sex trafficking exists throughout the United States and across the world. Traffickers use violence, threats, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. According the US Federal Law, any person under the age of 18 years old persuaded into commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking – no matter if the trafficker uses force, fraud and coercion or not. In many cases of sex trafficking, victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces or manipulates them into prostitution. Young people who run away from home are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation by traffickers: the Department of Justice estimates that 293,000 youth are at risk. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that “1 in 5 of the 11,800 runways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 2015 were likely sex trafficking victims.” In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking. Beth was just 16 when she met a man who said he wanted to be her boyfriend. He invited her to a party in a different state, however on the way there Beth was beaten and drugged. On awaking Beth was threatened with a gun, had her identifying documents taken from her and forced to perform commercial sex work.