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Human Trafficking and Exploitation of Juveniles

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used.

Get Help

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing trafficking, help is available. For immediate danger concerns, call 911.

For all other concerns:

  • Contact your local Child Protective Services in your county, for a full list, click here.
  • Report concerns to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
  • Report concerns to the Trafficked and Exploited Youth Coordinator at Nationwide Children’s for follow up here

For additional resources and support visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign.

Sex Trafficking is causing someone under the age of 18 to engage in a commercial sex act, regardless of using force, fraud, or coercion, is human trafficking under U.S. law. (Blue Campaign-US Department of Homeland Security)

Labor Trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion in exchange for labor, services. Force, fraud, or coercion is still needed to be considered trafficking with juveniles according to US law (Blue Campaign-US department of Homeland Security)

Some various forms of force, fraud, or coercion: imposing of debt, fraudulent employment opportunities, false promises of love or a better life, psychological coercion, and violence or threats of violence. (Blue Campaign-US Department of Homeland Security)

Who Can Be Trafficked?

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, anyone can be trafficked regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, immigration status, and socioeconomic class.

Vulnerabilities for children can include a lack of safety at home from violence, abuse, and neglect; homelessness or runaway status; and a lack of proper care in the child welfare system. Other vulnerabilities for children can include having a lack of trust in government institutions, economic hardship, isolation from family and/or community, and displacement from natural disasters.

Ohio ranks as one of the top 10 states for the number of human trafficking cases in the United States.

What to Look For: Sex Trafficking

  • They want to stop participating in selling or trading sex but feel scared or unable to leave. 
  • They disclose that they were reluctant to engage in selling sex but that someone pressured them into it. 
  • They live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace. 
  • They are children who live with or are supported by or dependent on a family member with a substance abuse problem or who is abusive in other ways. 
  • They have a pimp or manager in the sex trade. 
  • They work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business. 
  • They have a seemingly controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner or “sponsor” who will not allow you to meet or speak with the person alone or monitors their movements, spending and/or communication.

Do they…

  • Act fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous particularly around their work or someone they know
  • Defer to another person to speak for him or her and avoid eye contact? 
  • Show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture? 
  • Show signs of being harmed or deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care, other life necessities, or personal possessions? 
  • Restricting the potential victim’s contact with friends or family?

Is someone…

  • Limiting their social media use and/or stalking or monitoring their accounts? 
  • Preventing them from socializing or attending religious services? 
  • Preventing children from attending school and forcing them to work? 
  • Holding a large group in one place with poor conditions and limited space? 
  • Constantly watching or accompanying them?
  • Threatening their family with harm if they leave or quit their job?
  • Posting harmful content online about them to compel them to engage in a commercial sex act?

What to Look For: Labor Trafficking

  • Feel pressured by their employer to stay in a job or situation they want to leave

  • Owe money to an employer or recruiter and/or not being paid what they were promised or are owed

  • Do not have control of their passport or other identity documents

  • Are living and working in isolated conditions, largely cut off from interaction with others or support systems

  • Appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others

  • Are living in dangerous, overcrowded, or inhumane conditions provided by an employer

  • Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm

  • Are working in dangerous conditions, without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks and other protections

Do they…

  • Experience verbal or physical abuse (particularly from a supervisor), prevented from taking adequate breaks, made to work in unsafe conditions, or forced to meet daily quotas?

  • Work excessively long and/or unusual hours?

  • Accept a specific job but feel coerced or forced into a different job?

  • Appear to be living at their place of work?

  • Receive paychecks with negative balances or unreasonably low amounts for the pay period? 

Is someone…

  • Creating debt for them or adding to a never-ending balance of debt?
  • Processing payroll infrequently, not giving worker’s compensation insurance outlays where mandated, or forcing the person to transfer funds to an employer’s account?
  • Escorting them to the bank and/or using their bank accounts?
  • Threatening them with deportation, arrest, or jail?
  • In possession of the person’s identification, travel documents, money, or cell phone?
  • Forcing, defrauding, or coercing them to engage in a commercial sex act? 

Health Indicators for Child Sex Trafficking

  • Pregnancy at a young age

  • Evidence of abortions at young age

  • Early sexual initiation

  • Trauma to vagina and/or rectum

  • Symptoms of STIs and/or UTIs

  • Abnormal number of sexual partners for young age

  • Suspicious tattoos or branding

  • History of running away from home or foster care placements

  • Truancy/Stops going to school

  • Highly sexualized behavior or dress

  • Angry/Aggressive with staff

  • Depressed mood/Flat affect

  • Signs of drug or alcohol abuse

Health Indicators for Child Labor Trafficking

  • Unexplained injuries

  • Malnutrition/Dehydration

  • Lack of routine screening and preventative care

  • Poor dental hygiene

  • Untreated skin infections/Inflammations

  • Injuries or illness from exposure to harmful chemicals/unsafe water

  • Vision issues or Vision complaints

  • Somatization

  • Anxiety/Panic attacks (e.g. shortness of breath, chest pains.)

  • Unexplained/Conflicting stories

  • Overly vigilant or paranoid behavior

  • Inability/Aversion to make decisions independent of employer

  • Inability/Aversion to speak without an interpreter

  • Irritability

Impacts of Trauma

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Decreased/Disjointed memory
  • Inability to recall traumatic events accurately
  • Memories are triggered by related sensory information
  • Memory Disruption
  • Demonstrated loyalty and concern for the trafficker
  • Unwillingness to report or testify against the trafficker
  • Returning to the trafficker

People need to move from one place to another to be considered trafficking.


Human trafficking does not require transportation to be considered a crime. It is a crime that can be committed against an individual who has never their hometown.


Only women and girls can experience sex trafficking.


Men and boys are also victimized by sex traffickers. LGBTQ+ boys and young men are seen as particularly vulnerable to trafficking.


Only women and girls can experience sex trafficking.


Men and boys are also victimized by sex traffickers. LGBTQ+ boys and young men are seen as particularly vulnerable to trafficking.


Some teenagers get involved in sex trade because they have loose morals. We should not worry about them.


Anyone involved in selling sexual services who is under the age of 18 is a victim of sex trafficking under U.S. law.


All children are equally at risk for trafficking.


As with adults, children who have certain other risk factors are also going to be more at risk for trafficking. These include children who have been abused or faced trauma, children in unstable living situations and children in families battling addiction.


Traffickers target people they don’t know.


Many survivors have been trafficked by romantic partners, including spouses, and by family members, including parents.


Only undocumented foreign nationals get trafficked in the United States.


The Polaris Project has worked on thousands of cases of trafficking involving foreign national survivors who are legally living and/or working in the United States. These include survivors of both sex and labor trafficking.


Parents and other adults should be on the lookout for strangers who are hunting for children to exploit.


Children are far more likely to be trafficked by people they know – including members of their own family.


The only way to reduce child trafficking is to arrest all the perpetrators.


Law enforcement is an important partner in the work, but arrests alone will not solve this. Building and supporting strong families and communities will help prevent child sex trafficking before it happens.


Kidnapping is normally how a child becomes trafficked.


Online recruitment and grooming is normally how a child becomes trafficked.


According to the FBI, Sextortion is “a crime when someone threatens to distribute your private and sensitive material if you do not provide them images of a sexual nature, sexual favors, or money.”

There are two types of sextortion:

  • Sexually Motivated (typically targets females ages 10-17)
  • Financially Motivated (typically targets males ages 13-17).

If you suspect a young person in your life is experiencing sextortion, it is important to make sure they feel comfortable talking about it with you or another safe adult in their life. 1 in 3 people who experience sextortion never report it. In 2022, there were 12 suicides that were connected to sextortion (youth dying by suicide). It is believed that is much higher due to the lack of reporting of the crime.

The perpetrators committing these crimes are often seeking youth who are “popular”, involved with communities, or do well in school.

  • Stop communicating with the person immediately.  

  • Tell a trusted adult. 

  • Report it to law enforcement. 

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