The U. S. Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section estimates that in the United States, the median age of entry into the sex industry is between 12 and 14 years of age (Lloyd, 2010). Statistics from the National Incident-Based Reporting System indicate that in the United States, of the total number of juvenile sex workers, male juvenile sex workers outnumber female juvenile sex workers by 61% to 39% (Finkel – hor & Ormrod, 2004). Teenagers often become sex workers as a means of survival after they have run away from home. Approximately 100,000 children who leave their homes

each year are sexually exploited as sex workers (Salario, 2011). Research indicates that approximately 95% have been victims of sexual abuse, and most have been rejected by their families, sometimes after parents found out their children are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (Mok, 2006). Journalist Nicholas Kristof describes a common scenario:

Typically, she’s a 13-year-old girl of color from a troubled home who is on bad terms with her mother. Then her mom’s boyfriend hits on her, and she runs away to the bus station, where the only person on the lookout for girls like her is a pimp. He buys her dinner, gives her a place to stay and next thing she knows she’s earning him $1,550 a day (2011, p. 2).

Young women in this situation are routinely raped, beaten into submission, and utterly controlled by pimps who take the money they earn (Saar, 2010).

Many Americans perceive the teenage girls they may see on the streets as voluntarily selling sex, but most are exploited by pimps (Kristof, 2011). Pimps seek out young girls because they can charge higher prices and make more money than with adults (Loupe, 2011). Unfortunately, although many of the teens are too young to legally consent to sex, when apprehended by law enforcement, they will be charged with an act of pros­titution and sent to a juvenile detention center or jail (Lloyd, 2010). Sixty-three per­cent of girls in the juvenile justice system are there due to prostitution (Saar, 2010). In 2008 New York passed the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act, protecting them from prosecution and recognizing that underage prostituted girls are victims (Salario, 2011). Unfortunately, laws and programs to help prostituted teens heal from the trauma of sexual victimization and establish new lives are only in their infancy (Loupe, 2011).

While the awareness of sex trafficking in the United States has been limited, in recent years the problem of sex trafficking across the globe has received increasingly more attention, as discussed in the next section.