The two forms of child trafficking are sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
Child Sex Trafficking
Child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, including in Colorado.
Child sex trafficking is child abuse and can happen in any community. It can affect children or youth of every age, gender, race and socioeconomic background. Child sex trafficking is often a hidden crime and sometimes young people may not even view themselves as victims.
Child Sex trafficking occurs when an individual younger than 18 engages in sex trading or commercial sex. A child or youth may be forced, threatened or recruited into the sex trade or may be engaging in survival sex. All children and youth, regardless of their nationality or place of birth, can be vulnerable to sex trafficking.
Movies and media often portray young people as being kidnapped into child sex trafficking. More commonly, vulnerable young people are identified, groomed and recruited by traffickers over time. Child sex traffickers can be any gender, race and or age. The majority of traffickers are known to the victim (parents, relatives, friends, boyfriends/girlfriends). Traffickers frequently use social media to identify, groom and recruit victims.
Sex trafficking case example:
Child Labor Trafficking
Child labor trafficking is child abuse. Labor trafficking can be hidden- and occurs in diverse labor settings, both formal (large and small businesses, farms and factories) and informal (domestic labor, forced drug sales, door-to-door sales, panhandling), and can involve children of any age, race, gender or nationality.
Child labor trafficking can take many forms, the most common being debt bondage and forced labor. Debt bondage or bonded labor happens when a child or youth incurs a debt - real or fabricated - that he or she is never able to pay off. Forced labor/ involuntary servitude occurs when an employer or individual obtains labor or services through force, threats of force, abuse of the legal process, fraud and/or blackmail.
Traffickers can be a parent, guardian, sibling or another non-related caregiver. They can also be a peer, acquaintance or employer.
Red flags and indicators of child sex and labor trafficking can overlap. Vulnerabilities that put a child or youth at greater risk for trafficking include:
- A history of running away
- Homelessness with no consistent caregiver
- Identifies as LGBTQ+ (and has experienced family rejection, harassment, etc.)
- Prior victimization
- Prior child welfare or juvenile justice involvement
- Lack of local community support
- Economic instability
- Lack of educational and/or social-economic opportunities
- Substance abuse issues with self or at home with family members
- Physical/intellectual disabilities
- Immigration status
- The child or youth is in custody of a non-family-member; relationship with an adult is unclear
Child trafficking victims may not talk about their experience with an adult, so it’s important to recognize the signs of abuse. High-risk indicators a child or youth may be involved in trafficking:
- A child or youth possesses money, cell phone or other material items that cannot be explained or accounted for
- Self-reports participation in a sexual act in exchange for shelter, transportation, drugs, alcohol, money or other items of value
- Uses the Internet to post sexually explicit material (e.g. pictures, chats, advertisements, etc.)
- Is accompanied by an overly controlling “friend,” “partner,” or “boss”
Physical and emotional indicators such as:
- Injuries, signs of physical or sexual abuse
- Signs of drug and/or alcohol dependency
- Difficulty sitting or standing, ‘stomach aches’
- STIs, especially in a child or teen younger than 14
- Tattoos, or scars that a child or teen is hesitant to explain
- Increased anxiety
- Increased submissive behavior
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Even if you’re unsure, never hesitate to report suspicious situations by calling 844-CO-4-KIDS. If a child or youth is in immediate danger, dial 911.
Reporting signs is an important role we can all play in stopping child trafficking in Colorado.
With help from county human services departments, victims of sex and labor trafficking will have better access to treatment and recovery services specifically geared toward the trauma that they may have experienced.