Regardless of gender, age, immigration status, or citizenship, victims of labor and sex trafficking are vulnerable to force, fraud, and/or coercion (Protection Project, 2002). Traffickers prey on victims who live in poverty, are young, have limited education, lack work opportunities, lack family support (e.g., orphaned, runaway/throwaway, homeless, family members collaborating with traffickers), have a history of sexual abuse, have physical or mental health challenges, and live in vulnerable areas (e.g., presence of police corruption, high crime) (Salvation Army, 2006). Victims of international trafficking may also be in a situation where they are trying to escape from internal strife such as civil war and economic crises (Aiko, 2002). These victims often originate from poorer countries where trafficking has become a significant source of income (Newman, 2006). International evidence regarding trafficking, in both developed and less developed regions including the United States, indicates that women and girls are more likely to be trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic services; whereas men and boys tend to be trafficked for forced labor in commercial farming, petty crimes, and the drug trade (International Labor Organization, 2002).
Children and youth, including U.S. citizens, are among the most vulnerable. Nationally, the average age at which boys, girls, and transgender youth first become exploited through prostitution is between 11 and 14 years old (Estes & Weiner, 2001; Lloyd, 2005; Spangenberg, 2001). While all adolescent subgroups are at risk for prostitution, specific research conducted on a subpopulation of exploited children demonstrated that African-American girls and women are disproportionately arrested for prostitution relative to their numbers in the population. African-American youth, in particular, are reported to be the most susceptible subgroup to be arrested because they tend to be forced onto the streets and into blatant solicitation where the risk of arrest is highest compared to other subgroups (Flowers, 2001). Other risk factors for sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking, include a history of childhood sexual abuse (Council for Prostitution Alternatives, 1991; Farley & Kelly, 2000; Raphael, 2004; Spangenberg, 2001), family disruption (e.g., death, divorce, abandonment, substance abuse, and domestic violence) (Raphael, 2004), school-related problems (Martinez, 2006), and chronic runaways and periods of homelessness (Norton-Hawk, 2002; Raphael & Shapiro, 2002; Silbert & Pines, 1982).
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