The Global, National and State Fight Against Sex Trafficking

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In 2018, the National Trafficking Hotline received 466 contacts – which include phone calls, texts, online chats, emails, and webforms – regarding human trafficking referencing Nevada. Sex trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery affecting vulnerable individuals across the globe, the U.S. and Nevada, and this data unfortunately confirms its active presence. In the fight against sex trafficking, social workers must take steps to identify potential victims and understand their role in protecting these vulnerable individuals.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Master of Social Work Program.


Image of social workers recognizing the risks and signs associated with child and adult sex trafficking

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Sex Trafficking Statistics and Victim Demographics

According to the ILO’s 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, nearly all sex trafficking victims – 99.4% – are women and girls.

In 2016, it was determined that around 1 in 5 victims of sexual exploitation were children (21.3%). Nearly three in four adult and child victims (73%) came from Asia and the Pacific. However, this doesn’t mean the United States is exempt. In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 7,858 formal reports of sext trafficking in the U.S., 260 of which referenced Nevada.

U.S. Victim Demographics and Psychographics

Victims of American sex trafficking come from a variety of backgrounds. They can be U.S. citizens or foreign nationals, women or men, children, LGBTQ individuals, runaways or homeless youth, social outcasts, or victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Risk Factors and Signs of Sex Trafficking

Sex traffickers target vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals. To fight against sex trafficking, it’s important to recognize the risk factors and signs an individual is or may become a victim.

According to the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, there are several risk factors associate with child trafficking. Some of these are factors are tied to economics, such as poverty and homelessness. Others are associated with health- and development-related issues, such as mental illness, developmental delays, or learning disabilities. Sociological and psychological concerns such as family dysfunction, isolation, childhood sexual abuse, or promotion of sexual exploitation by family members or peers are other cited risk factors.

The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments also recognizes several signs that could indicate child sex trafficking taking place. Some of these are visual signs ranging from changes in attire or attention to personal hygiene to bruising and other signs of physical trauma. Some could be relationship-based, such as the presence of an older and/or controlling boyfriend or girlfriend. Other signs are behavioral in nature, such as frequently running away from home, poor school attendance, or talk about frequently traveling to other cities.

The Global Slavery Index has identified various risk factors related to migrant sex trafficking. Some of these factors mirror domestic child trafficking, such as poverty and isolation. Others are unique to migrants, and they include poor English language skills, insecure or illegal immigration status, a lack of awareness of U.S. employment protections, and employment in non-government regulated sectors or jobs.

There are several methods sex traffickers use to force individuals into sex trafficking. Some of these tactics include threats to expose the victim to friends, families, or the authorities; lies tied to promises of a job like modeling or dancing; romantic manipulation; debt bondage; various forms of coercion; and physical violence.

Celebrating Progress and Pressing On

The U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) was established in 2000 with the passing of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and follows the “3P” paradigm: prosecuting trafficking cases, protecting victims and preventing trafficking.

The crackdowns are getting results. In 2018, 95% of the 71 federally tried criminal human trafficking cases were sex trafficking cases. Another success story involves the shutting down of, a platform facilitating sex trafficking which was shuttered after the attorney general authorized raids. Additionally, President Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act into law; the mandate allows victims and their families to sue platforms that consciously facilitates sex trafficking. This is important because experts believe online trafficking has led to an increase in sex trafficking.

The State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report has also suggested several methods that can help the U.S. fight sex trafficking. These methods include increasing conversations with survivors, expanding trauma-informed and survivor-informed services for victims, and enhancing prevention efforts in venues with high sex trafficking rates.

The Role of Social Workers

Social workers are charged with several responsibilities concerning sex trafficking. These include working to correct misconceptions of sex trafficking, understanding the scope of the problem and screening protocol, getting familiar with sex trafficking language, understanding mandated state reporting laws, and maintaining a non-judgmental attitude toward all victims of sex trafficking. In order to fight child sex trafficking, social workers should recognize the signs a child may be a victim and work to raise awareness among parents, educators and communities.


Social workers create and lead programs spreading awareness of sex trafficking to help prevent these crimes and assist victims. In addition to the efforts of courts and law enforcement personnel to fight sex trafficking, social workers must be the eyes and ears among their communities to help individuals safe and aware.


Suggested Readings

Human Trafficking: A Social Worker’s Role

Social Work vs. Sociology: What’s The Difference?

Social Worker vs. Therapist: Understanding The Similarities and Differences

University of Nevada, Reno, Online Master of Social Work