StateStats | June 2014



Bar chart graphic States Fight Sex Trafficking of Kids

Human trafficking sells people into forced sexual servitude and labor and is one of the largest illegal enterprises in the world, but determining the exact number of victims trafficked annually is difficult. The State Department places it at 2 million worldwide, with 15,000 to 18,000 of the cases in the United States. The majority of sex traffic victims in the United States are citizens, while most labor trafficking victims are immigrants, according to government studies.

In 2003, Washington became the first state to criminalize human trafficking. Since then, all 50 states have outlawed sex trafficking, and most have outlawed labor trafficking.

Recently, lawmakers have concentrated on helping children and teens who have been sold into prostitution by passing “safe harbor” laws that treat them as victims rather than criminals. Often, they are at-risk, vulnerable youths with troubled backgrounds who are homeless or drug dependent, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.

This year, states are considering more than 220 bills that address human trafficking, including 24 bills in 11 states that call for expanded services to sexually exploited youth.

Life on the Streets

  • About 293,000 U.S. children—mostly girls aged 12-to-14—are at risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex, according to a March 2011 FBI report.
  • Minors recruited or abducted into prostitution often are runaways or come from abusive homes or foster homes. 
  • The minors are advertised on websites and taken to streets, hotels, brothels, strip clubs and truck stops. 
  • Criminal networks transport the children around the country by a variety of means—cars, buses, vans, trucks or planes.
  • An estimated 70 percent to 90 percent of youth victims of sex trafficking have histories of sexual abuse.
  • The FBI has recovered 2,700 sexually exploited children since 2005. 
  • In a three-day sweep last summer, the FBI recovered 105 sexually exploited children, aged 13 to 17, and arrested 159 adults in 76 cities.

Sources: FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, “Human Sex Trafficking,” March 2011; NCSL; U.S. Department of Justice Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force; the Polaris Project

Who Are Sex-Trafficking Victims?

These charts are based on a federal analysis of cases of suspected sex and labor trafficking between January 2008 and June 2010. The majority involved the sex trafficking of young female U.S. citizens.


  • 83 percent U.S citizens 
  • 17 percent other


  • 87 percent 24 or under 
  • 13 percent 25 or older


  • 94 percent female 
  • 6 percent male

Source: U.S. Department of Justice Special Report, “Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010,” April 2011

Additional Resources

NCSL Resources

Other Resources

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