What Does a Sex Trafficking Victim Look Like?



Sex trafficking victims are hard to find unless you know what their vulnerabilities are and know some of the indicators. 


Recently, I spoke at a conference held at a casino in South Dakota. It was a domestic violence conference, however, I was asked to speak about Sex Trafficking Awareness. During the conference, I took several questions, one of which was asked by a woman seated in the front. She asked me the question… “What does a sex trafficking victim look like?”  At that moment I realized that awareness still needs to be done for the public to be on the lookout for the indicators of trafficking. I think people want to get involved and finding out the indicators and vulnerabilities is the first step!


There is no way to describe what a sex trafficking victim might look like.  However, there are ways to look for signs of things that might be happening to a potential victim.


In my experience in the investigations I’ve worked, I've had victims from broken homes, divorced parents, parents on drugs or in prison, parents who committed sexual abuse on the victims, and victims in the child welfare system.  But I have also had victims who came from loving parents who work in professional capacities, such as doctors and lawyers. I've had victims who had full-ride scholarships to universities and fell into the sex trafficking industry while in college. 


There is no predictable demographic where a sex trafficking victim could be found. It is a matter of the vulnerabilities of that victim and a matter of the efforts of the traffickers to seek them out and recruit and groom them. 


Sex trafficking victims are from all races, all ages, and all demographics. For example, I had investigated a case where a woman in her 40s, a former Department of Corrections Officer, fell into sex trafficking after meeting a boyfriend at a strip club. I've had cases involving juveniles as young as 12 years old. I've had an investigation where the parents thought their child was at volleyball practice and instead they were spending their evenings being trafficked in hotels. 


According to the Department of Justice (2016), youth at risk of human trafficking include the following:

  • Youth in the foster care system
  • Young people who identify as LGBTQ+
  • Homeless or runaway youths
  • Those with disabilities
  • Youth with a history of sexual abuse
  • Youth with mental or substance abuse disorders
  • Those with a history of being involved in the welfare system
  • Those who identify as native or aboriginal
  • Youth with family dysfunction (DOJ, 2016)


"I would add to this list- The lack of parental involvement in their child's life." 


I have had so many investigations where if parents were just paying attention to their child's activity online, they would prevent predators from being able to contact them.  I really don’t know where the “stranger danger” concept went but it is important to bring it back into conversations with our kids. Parents should also check to see if their child has multiple different social media accounts.  They can check by looking into the "friends".  I have had several juvenile victims have their other social media accounts "friends" with the social media account that their parents know about. 


Just like there is no way to describe a trafficker, they come from all demographics as well. The best advice I can give is to learn about the sex trafficking indicators and pay attention to them and your interactions with others.  



In short, there is no way to predetermine a sex trafficking victim, but recognizing vulnerabilities and possible indicators goes a long way in the prevention.


Sign up for my list of sex trafficking indicators here you will see the form to sign up at the bottom of the webpage.  Stay tuned for more blog posts about what parents can do to prevent their children from being accessed by traffickers, buyers, and predators.


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