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Teen Trafficking: Impact and Recovery Strategies

Human trafficking inflicts severe psychological, emotional, and physical wounds on teen victims that require lifelong professional treatment and counseling. Many trafficked teens experience multiple forms of abuse that lead to long-term health problems, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies.

While all trafficking cases represent the worst form of abuse that one human could do to another human, it is parental trafficking that is particularly insidious since it involves a parent or guardian trafficking their own child for money.

Estimates put the number of children and adults trafficked worldwide each year at around one million. The largest destination for victims of sex trafficking is the U.S., with between 20,000 and 50,000 adults and children forced into the dark world of sex trafficking by mafia types, entities that operate on the Dark Web, and, unfortunately, people who children trust the most–their parents.

Defining Different Types of Human Trafficking

Familial Sex Trafficking

When a child or teen is forced to engage in sexually explicit or exploitative acts by a parent, sibling, grandparent, or other biological relative, that type of trafficking is called parental or familial trafficking. Research indicates that nearly 50 percent of all child trafficking cases globally are initiated by a family member whom the child knows and trusts.

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking of children happens primarily in underdeveloped countries controlled by noncommittal governments. Children are forced to labor in horrible conditions, often involving long hours, working with dangerous equipment, and receiving little or no pay. Industries that commonly engage in the labor trafficking of children include agriculture, manufacturing, and domestic services. In the U.S. most labor trafficking involves undocumented immigrant children from Central America and Mexico.

Trafficking Child Soldiers

Children of all ages are abducted or sold by their parents to participate in armed conflicts. Children as young as four have been found serving as spies, soldiers, and messengers in ongoing civil wars. 

Child Marriage Trafficking

When underage girls are forced into marriages without their consent to much older men, it is frequently the parent or other relative of the child that sells the girl into a child marriage. Operators of child marriage trafficking “rings” kidnap girls living on the street and sell them for marriage purposes because they know nobody will report the girls missing.

Trafficked children may also be forced to beg for money by an adult who threatens the child with physical violence if they don’t bring them a certain amount of money every day. In poor countries where economic conditions are dismal, human traffickers deliberately abduct and exploit children to beg for change on the street, since people are more likely to give children money instead of adults.

The Causes of Parental Trafficking: What Makes a Parent or Relative Sell a Child for Sexual Exploitation?

The act of selling a child into sex trafficking is heinous and revolting. It is a crime that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. What may be worse than a sex trafficker exploiting children they may have never even met is the sex trafficker who is the parent of that child.

Experts cite numerous factors that increase the risk of a parent or guardian forcing their child to commit commercial sexual exploitation acts. In no way should these reasons justify or excuse such horrendous behavior.

The primary reason parents traffick their children involves greed. Many people experience financial difficulties or extreme poverty, but they do not sell their children for sexual exploitation by another person.

However, when a parent’s financial situation is compounded by other difficulties in their lives, or the parent suffers from an untreated mental illness or personality disorder, the financial rewards of child sex trafficking extinguish any sense of empathy or love they may have once had for their child.

Other factors increasing the risk of familial trafficking of children include parents struggling with substance addiction, parents who were physically and sexually abused as children, and a parent having a severe sociopathic personality disorder that makes them incapable of feeling empathy.

Parents who have no moral or ethical filters may see nothing wrong with taking pictures of their nude five-year-old son or daughter and selling them to pedophiles on the Deep Web for substantial financial gain.

Signs and Indicators of Exploited Children: Recognizing the Teen Victim of Familial Sex Trafficking

Recognizing the teen victims of familial sex trafficking is difficult since many signs and indicators mimic mental and emotional disorders. Sudden changes in behavior, evidence of physical abuse, poor hygiene, school truancy, and appearing detached and disassociated when interacting with others may be signs that a child is being exploited.

When teens are involved in parental trafficking, the parent or relative who is trafficking the teen may always remain close to the teen, controlling where they go, who they see, how they dress, and so on. The trafficker may isolate the teen from other members of the family, pretending to “care” about the teen’s well-being and safety.

The trafficker often manipulates their young victims by giving them expensive presents–clothes, cellphones, small amounts of cash–to prevent them from disclosing their exploitation to others.

Parents who receive money, drugs, or a place to stay in exchange for handing their child over to a pedophile often tell their child that there’s nothing wrong with what they are doing and that “if you loved me, you would do this so we have a place to stay and food to eat”.

The Impact of Trafficking on Teen Victims

Long-term Mental Health Effects of Parental Trafficking: Helping the Most Vulnerable of Society

Providing help for trafficked teens is essential to their recovery journey. The road to recovery is undeniably challenging and different for everyone. Teens rescued from child sex trafficking usually experience worsening symptoms of psychological issues they developed while being trafficked.

Counseling for trafficking survivors is a critical component of the healing process. Specialized therapeutic interventions like Residential treatment centers providing a holistic approach that addresses both the physical and psychological wounds is often the most helpful for these brave young people.

Not only do they get 24/7 therapeutic interventions, they get a sense of community and normalcy while also getting treatment for PTSD, severe depression and anxiety disorders, substance addiction, and cognitive impairments offer victims a safe, structured environment in which to begin healing.

Aftercare for victims of human traffickers should include assistance with reintegrating into society, access to educational resources, help with financial instability, and continuing trauma therapy with counselors who specialize in treating familial sex trafficking victims.

Conclusion: The Path Forward for All Teens Affected by Trafficking

As we reflect on the devastating realities of human trafficking, it’s important to acknowledge that this heinous crime does not discriminate. Both boys and girls are tragically ensnared in its grasp. The impact of trafficking on teenagers is profound, leaving scars that can last a lifetime. Yet, amidst this darkness, there is a ray of hope. With the right support, resources, and compassionate care, healing is possible.

Let us remember  that every teen affected by trafficking is someone’s child, friend or classmate. They deserve our compassion, our action, and our commitment to ending this cycle of abuse. By standing together against human trafficking, we not only protect our children.

We also honor the resilience and strength of those who have survived. Together, we can forge a future where every teen is safe, respected, and free to pursue their dreams. Gender won’t matter.

For more information and access to teen trafficking support services, please visit:

Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS)

  • Services Offered: GEMS is dedicated to empowering young women, ages 12-24, who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking. The organization provides training and technical assistance to agencies and institutions across the U.S. that work with at-risk youth, victims, and survivors of domestic trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Their services include educational initiatives, court advocacy, holistic case management, and transitional & supportive housing. Website: GEMS

Sanctuary for Families

  • Services Offered: Sanctuary for Families offers a comprehensive range of resources for survivors of human trafficking and youth at risk of commercial sexual exploitation. They provide client-centered, trauma-informed legal, clinical, and support services aimed at self-empowerment, restoring a sense of self, and rebuilding lives free from violence. Their services include case management, counseling, legal services, and specialized programming for youth ages 11-18 focusing on homeless, foster care, LGBTQ+, and system-impacted youth. The EMPOWER Center, part of their offerings, provides a range of services including medical, mental health, legal, counseling, and employment services. Website: Sanctuary for Families

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