Frequently Asked Questions: Youth, Sex Trafficking and CSEC

January is nationally recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

The CAC of Niagara is home to the Niagara County Safe Harbour Program for youth experiencing trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. A goal of the program is to help educate kids and prevent abuse. In 2023, CAC staff provided prevention education and outreach to over 3,000 students grade K-12 in Niagara County.

This month we wanted to highlight some of the frequently asked questions we receive when talking to kids about trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

What is Sex Trafficking?

The federal definition for sex trafficking is: the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.

For youth, it can be defined as any sex act with a person under the age of 18 where something of value is given or exchanged or when someone takes advantage of another person for sex in exchange for something of value.

What is Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children or CSEC?

The Office of Juvenile Justice defines CSEC as a: range of crimes and activities involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a child for the financial benefit of any person or in exchange for anything of value (including monetary and non-monetary benefits) given or received by any person. Examples of crimes and acts that constitute CSEC: child sex trafficking; child sex tourism involving commercial sexual activity; commercial production of child pornography; online transmission of live video of a child engaged in sexual activity in exchange for anything of value. CSEC also includes situations where a child, whether or not at the direction of any other person, engages in sexual activity in exchange for anything of value, which includes non-monetary things such as food, shelter, drugs, or protection from any person.

The terms CSEC and sex trafficking are sometimes used interchangeably.

Isn’t Sex Trafficking Just Child/Teenage Prostitution?

No, trafficking occurs through force, fraud or coercion. If someone is under the age of 18 and they are having sex, performing sex acts, or taking nude photos in exchange for anything of value, they are a victim of trafficking. It is important to note that things of value can be money, but it can also be a place to sleep, shelter, food, clothing, drugs, alcohol or safety. Here are some examples of how trafficking works:

  1. A teenager doesn’t have a stable home or their basic needs met, runs away often. One night they have nowhere to go so they have sex with someone in exchange for a place to sleep.
  2. A teenager is using drugs and alcohol but doesn’t have the money to purchase the items, so they perform sex acts in exchange for drugs and alcohol.
  3. Someone the teenager knows, often a caregiver, forces the teenager to have sex so the caregiver gets something of value, for example they get their rent paid.
  4. A teenager dates someone much older. The relationship turns unhealthy and now the older boyfriend/girlfriend forces the teenager to have sex with another person in exchange for the boyfriend/girlfriend getting something of value, for example money or debt cleared.
  5. A teenager is solicited online to send nude photos in exchange for money.

Are Children Kidnapped and Forced into Trafficking by Strangers?

It is very rare for someone to be kidnapped and/or held captive and forced into trafficking. This is because most of the time, a survivor knows their trafficker or developed a relationship with their trafficker online. According to F.B.I statistics, out of a half million missing persons cases opened each year, only a few hundred involve an abduction by a stranger.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children does a good job explaining the different types of child sex trafficking including familial trafficking, pimp-controlled trafficking, buyer-perpetrated trafficking and gang-related trafficking:

Niagara County is Close to the Border with Canada, Do You See a Lot of Trafficking Due to the Proximity of the Border?

No, sex trafficking has nothing to do with moving people across borders. When you move people across borders, that is called smuggling. Most youth who are trafficked are trafficked by someone they know. Many times, teenagers who are survivors of sex trafficking live at home and go to school.

Does this Only Happen to Women?

Anyone can be trafficked, it doesn’t matter your race, ethnicity, age, gender identity or sexual orientation. It’s more about the people in your life. However, some people are more vulnerable to trafficking than others. Teenagers who don’t have their basic needs met or who are kicked out of their house or runaway often, or those experiencing homelessness are more vulnerable to trafficking. African-America and Latino youth, children with child-welfare involvement, and members of the LGBTQ+ community are also more vulnerable.

For more information on vulnerabilities and statistics, visit Thorn:

Why Don’t Survivors Seek Help Immediately?

There are many reasons why survivors don’t seek help when they are being trafficked. Sometimes survivors feel embarrassment or shameful about what is happening to them. Sometimes they feel it is their fault, which we know is not true. They may know or even love their traffickers – if someone is being trafficked by a family member or boyfriend/girlfriend, it is very hard to speak out and say this is happening. Survivors may feel they may have nowhere else to go. They may feel no one else will take care of them. Or survivors may fear their trafficker who might have threatened them with violence or to expose what they have been doing.

What Can I do to Help Prevent Trafficking?

It’s important for children and teenagers to feel loved and supported. They need a stable home, their basic needs met, and safe adults in their lives who take an interest in them. You can provide a safe place for teenagers to thrive, teach and model boundaries in your home and talk to teenagers about healthy relationships and consent.

For more information on talking to teenagers about healthy relationships, visit our blog post:

What Should I do if I Think Someone is Being Trafficked?

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 or text “BEFREE” to 233733.

The Child Advocacy Center of Niagara is home to the Niagara County Safe Harbour Project which is committed to protecting and assisting children who experience trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation. If you are worried about a youth ages 12-17, contact the CAC at 716-285-0045.