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Know the signs: Sexual Exploitation

Sexual exploitation can take many forms including these examples:

  • Sex Trafficking (also see definition of sex trafficking provided below)
  • Taking pictures of a child for pornographic use
  • Denying age-appropriate privacy to a child who is dressing, undressing, or using the bathroom

Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) is increasingly being recognized as a serious international problem that often targets children who have been victims of abuse and neglect. CSEC comprises sexual abuse and payment in money, goods, or services — or the promise of money goods, or services — to the child victim or a third person or persons for the sexual use of a child. CSEC includes sex trafficking and sex tourism.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)


  • Child Pornography — Any visual or audio material of a child engaged in real or simulated sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child, the dominant characteristic of which is depiction for a sexual purpose.
  • Survival Sex — Individuals who have traded sex acts (including prostitution, stripping, pornography, etc.) to meet the basic needs for survival (i.e., food, shelter, safety, etc.) without the overt force, fraud or coercion of a trafficker, but who felt that their circumstances left little or no other option.
  • Child — Any person younger than age 18 is considered a child under U.S. law.
  • Trafficker — Any person who benefits in cash or kind by pimping, trafficking, recruiting, restraining, advertising, recording, filming, coordinating, housing, transporting, selling or otherwise making a child available to a third person or persons for sexual purposes.
  • Sex Trafficking — The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 defines “sex trafficking” as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act. Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.
  • Sex Tourism — The commercial sexual exploitation of children by men or women who travel from one place to another for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts with children, younger than age 18. Sex tourism can occur between countries as well as within countries.

CSEC Includes

  • A child who is a victim of sexual exploitation
  • Pornography
  • Stripping
  • Erotic/nude massage
  • Escort services
  • Phone sex lines
  • Private parties
  • Gang-based prostitution
  • Intrafamilial pimping (a relative who is sexually exploiting a child)
  • "Survival Sex"
  • Forms of Internet-based exploitation

Some Characteristics of CSEC in Alaska

  • Not limited to any socio-economic class of kids
  • Average age of entry is 14 to 17 years old
  • Youth from different cultures are seen as "versatile" or exotic and vulnerable to traffickers
  • Youth recruited by other youth or family/friends
  • Very hard to quantify and come up with numbers
  • Promises or lures of better life (are used to manipulate the victim)
  • Distance from family and other support structures (children in these situations are targeted)

Alaska Homeless Youth

Based on studies conducted in Alaska, within 48 hours of becoming homeless, one in three children will be approached by a trafficker.

In Alaska, the common age of recruitment is 14-16 years and the average lifespan once recruited is seven years.

Covenant House Alaska reports:

  • 1 out 5 individuals experiencing homelessness in Alaska is under 18 years old
  • 1 in 7 children will be a runaway before the age of 18
  • Sixty-eight percent (68%) of the youth who had either been trafficked or engaged in survival sex had done so while homeless.

A study conducted by Loyola University in cooperation with Covenant House Alaska in 2016 reports:

  • 65 youth were surveyed locally, and 641 youth were surveyed nationally
  • 1 in 5 identified as trafficking victims nationally
  • 1 in 4 identified as trafficking (labor/sex) victims locally
  • 1 in 4 females identified as sex trafficking locally
  • Twenty-eight percent (28%) of respondents locally say they had experienced any form or trafficking, 2nd only to Oakland.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) is real and is happening in Alaska. 200 victims of trafficking were served in the last two years between five Anchorage providers. Law enforcement reports an increase of online recruitment of victims. There are also more cases of traffickers creating explicit images and videos of minors.

Alaska Risk Factors

  • Populations with high amounts of historical trauma and trauma exposure
  • Transient male-dominated industries such as mining, fishing, and oil industries.

Studies have shown that the co-location of industries such as mining, oil, or fishing operations, which hire primarily male workers and require them to live temporarily away from their homes, in or near communities with high levels of historical trauma can lead to exploitive dynamics that increases the occurrence of transactional sex (Bradshaw, Linneker, & Overton, 2017). These conditions contribute to the commercial sexual and labor exploitation of youth and women in Alaska.

Covenant House Alaska reports that their staff members at the Anchorage youth homeless shelter are informed by their residents of minimally two cases of trafficking and or survival sex from their service population per month.

Possible Signs of Child Victims

  • A non-custodial adult is always present, and the victim looks to them to answer questions and/or is protective of them. This adult tends to isolate the child.
  • Withdraw from family/friends
  • Sudden increase in money
  • Uses language or slang common that is highly sexualized
  • Talks about losing property
  • Is a chronic runaway
  • Has new, frequent or unexplained physical injury
  • Lies about age or identity
  • History of drug and/or alcohol use
  • History of involvement with law enforcement
  • History of traumatic loss of consciousness, broken bone, or significant wound
  • History of sexual activity with more than 5 partners
  • History of a sexually transmitted infection

Possible Physical Signs of Child Sexual Exploitation

  • Tattoos or brands — especially in unusual locations such as the back of the neck, underarm, lower back, inner thigh; possibly with a trafficker's name
  • Current sexually transmitted disease(s) including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Unwilling pregnancy
  • Signs of inflicted injuries, including bruises, lacerations, bite marks, cigarette burns, areas of hair loss due to hair pulling, scars, ligature marks
  • Signs of medical and/or physical neglect, including unhealed wounds, rashes or sore; deformities from poorly healed fractures; poor hygiene; dental disease; untreated or undiagnosed chronic disease such as asthma or diabetes; malnutrition
  • Genital and/or anal injuries
  • Complications of unsafe abortions
  • Other major trauma such as gunshot wounds, head injuries, abdominal trauma
  • Memory loss
  • Mental illnesses such as depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, panic attacks, dissociation
  • Signs of substance abuse and/or withdrawal

Child Victims of Sex Trafficking May Look Like the Children You Help Every Day

  • Children rarely disclose they have been sexually exploited.
  • Children often do not realize they are victims of trafficking.
  • Many view their exploiter as a boyfriend/girlfriend, and the process of breaking that bond is time- and resource-intensive.
  • Children who are trafficked may still be under the control of a trafficker, even after they return to foster care or a family home or are rescued.
  • Children who are trafficked may have a history of repeated sexual exploitation or running away.
  • Trafficked children often suffer from depression, hostility, stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fear of authority, as well as fear of those who victimize them.
  • Outward symptoms of depression, anxiety, or hostility may present as difficult behavior or resistance to assistance.
  • Other physical symptoms such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and drug addiction may mask the fact that they have been exploited.

What Should You Do if You Suspect?

As with other cases of disclosed or suspected child abuse…

  • Believe the Child
  • Report
  • Empower
  • Follow up
  • Support

More Information

More information on the topic of sexual exploitation of children can be found in the online training course Alaska Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Human Trafficking) available at this site: https:\\ Instructions on how to create an account can be accessed on the front page of the site.

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