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Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a crime where innocent people are forced to do things against their will. It is a crime where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.There are different kinds of trafficking. The kind of trafficking that young people are most commonly targets of is sex trafficking. Teens who are trafficked for sex are manipulated or forced to engage in a sexual act in exchange for something of value (money, drugs, food, shelter, clothing, etc.). Some young people may be manipulated or forced into performing some type of work (domestic work such as house keeping, working in agriculture, selling merchandise door to door or in the streets) in exchange for something of value. This is called labor trafficking.

Human trafficking can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic status, but there are certain things that might increase a person’s risk of being targeted by a trafficker. These risk factors can include the personal history of the young person being targeted, such as previous experiences of abuse or other trauma, but risk factors can also include community conditions like an established market for commercial sex (sexually oriented businesses, strip clubs, etc.). Learn how you can protect yourself and get the word out to other young people by exploring the links and resources here.


Just Ask VA is a public awareness campaign designed to expose the prevalence of sex trafficking in Northern Virginia. There is some information on this website that is specific to Virginia (crime tip reporting numbers), however most of the information is useful for learning about trafficking in general and can be applied wherever you happen to live. There is a lot of useful information for young people on this website, including quizzes to find out if you are at risk and resources to help you know what to do if you or someone you know is being manipulated, hurt, or trafficked.

Holly Austin Smith, a survivor of sex trafficking, is an author and advocate who serves as a consultant for AMBER alert and speaks about her experiences to educate law enforcement officers, services providers and raise awareness in communities.

Courtney’s House is a nonprofit organization that serves survivors of sex trafficking in the Washington DC area. Founded in 2008 by survivor, Tina Frundt, Courtney’s House also engages in raising awareness and providing training in local communities.

Polaris Project is a nonprofit organization that works in the United States and around the world to end human trafficking. Polaris Project works to strengthen federal and state laws, operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, conducts trainings, and provides vital services to victims of human trafficking. Their website has a lot of information and valuable resource, including outreach materials.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway is a service of the Children’s Bureau, the Administration for Children and Families, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provides access to materials for improving child welfare practice. This link contains information from various states and organizations about the relationship between the child welfare system and human trafficking, including building child welfare response to human trafficking, learning the pathways into and out of the commercial sexual victimization of children, and meeting the legal needs of child trafficking victims.

The National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections at the Hunter College School of Social Work is a training, technical assistance, and information service organization dedicated to help strengthen the capacity of State, local, Tribal and other publicly administered child welfare agencies to institutionalize a safety-focused, family-centered, community-based approach to meet the needs of children, youth and families. This link provides a long list of resources from a variety of sources on child trafficking. Some of the resources may be the same as those linked through the Child Welfare Information Gateway (referenced above).


Strategies for LINKS Workers and Resources for Parents:

● Media Literacy – Media literacy means being able to think critically about    all forms of media that we consume (news, entertainment, advertisements,etc.) and ask questions like; who these various forms of media are targeting, what interests they represent, and what techniques they use to    help persuade their audience. It is critical for professionals that work with young people (foster care workers), as well as resource parents (foster or adoptive) to become media literate and to teach young people how to    become critical consumers of media. Raising your awareness about how businesses and other industries are sending messages to young people through media is an important component in the prevention of trafficking.  Traffickers understand the messages sent by popular culture and they use these messages to recruit and exploit young people.

● Internet Safety – It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of technology and it can certainly be true that the young people you care about and work with every day have an understanding that surpasses your own, especially as technology changes. What you should know, however, is that there are resources to help ensure the safety of young people while  they use the internet.  The North Carolina Department of Justice has developed a video and a downloadable guide about keeping young people safe on the internet. Here is the link where you can access these materials:

● Coping Skills – Helping young people develop healthy coping skills can not only help prevent trafficking, but can help prevent young people from becoming involved in other dangerous or unhealthy situations. Healthy coping skills can also help young people manage stress, improve self-esteem, and build strong social support systems.  All of these things can help prevent a young person from becoming the target of a trafficker.

● Extracurricular Activities – Like coping skills, healthy extracurricular activities can help prevent a young person from becoming trafficked. These activities could include, but may not be limited to, school sponsored   clubs, sports, or programs, or other interests cultivated outside of school  like art, music, dance, volunteering, or faith/church groups. There are several ways that extracurricular activities help young people, including building self-esteem, learning important skills like team work, and decreasing the opportunity to be involved in problem behavior. In fact, some research suggests that young people who are involved in pro-social activities are less likely to commit or be victims of crime.

● Tell Young People that they CAN say NO – It is hard to deny that our society is saturated with images of sex and distorted images of beauty and value. This can teach young people that sex appeal equals value. Helping  young  people to look beyond this message is important. Young people need to know that they have the right to say no to anyone at any time, no matter what. It is THEIR body and only theirs. NOBODY has the right to touch them - no matter what, no matter when. Hearing this from someone they trust and care about will only help to deepen the impact of the message. Don’t be afraid to talk to the young people you work with about their right to say NO - they need to hear this message!

● Encourage Young People to ASK QUESTIONS – Young people cannot protect themselves from undesirable or unsafe situations if they are not given the information they need to protect their health and safety. Intentionally providing false information or failing to provide accurate information (or any information) about their health, their bodies, and their lives is not helpful to anyone. Encourage young people to ask questions about sex or sexual orientation, physical health and nutrition, developing  positive relationships with their peers, or what a healthy romantic relationship looks like. Most importantly; be there for them when they ask  these questions. It may be uncomfortable, but that feeling is temporary. By coming to you with difficult questions they are telling you that they trust you. Don’t break that trust by refusing to engage in the conversation.

● Teach Young People HOW TRAFFICKERS WORK – Traffickers often can be found in the same places young people like to hang out, like shopping malls and online. They probably don’t look like you picture them. They will likely be well-dressed. They will probably be young – in their 20s or so. Traffickers may buy young people clothes, shoes, or other expensive items to win their affection. Traffickers also know how to use a young person’s vulnerabilities against them. This means that young people in foster care may be especially vulnerable due to their history of trauma. Make sure  that young people know the techniques that traffickers use so that they can prevent themselves from being targeted or recruited.

● Encourage Young People to Raise Awareness – Encouraging and  empowering young people to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking or educate others about media literacy is a powerful way to engage them in prevention. Not only will they learn how to protect themselves, but they will learn how to protect and empower other young people.  Engagement in advocacy and awareness activities can enhance healing and growth, and help young people develop vital leadership skills.

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