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Understanding Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking violates human rights and harms health. Public health practitioners can use strategies to prevent this problem. Get resources to help your community.

Sex trafficking exploits women, men, and children across the United States and around the world. Preventing this violation of health, safety, and human rights is necessary for the well-being of people and communities. People can learn more about the problem, and prevention practitioners can use resources to help prevent sex trafficking.

Sex Trafficking Problem

Sex trafficking — a type of human trafficking — is a serious public health problem, placing a toll on the well-being of individuals, families, and communities. It is defined as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act” by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

Severe forms involve force, fraud, or coercion and such cases involving young people under the age of 18.

Victims can come from all backgrounds and become trapped in different locations and situations.

  • The majority of victims are women and girls, though men and boys are also impacted;
  • They include all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, citizens, non-citizens, and income levels;
  • They are trapped and controlled through assault, threats, false promises, perceived sense of protection, isolation, shaming, and debt; and
  • They do not have to be physically transported between locations to be victimized.

Risk & Impact

Trafficking victimization and perpetration share risks and consequences associated with child maltreatment, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and gang violence — all major public health problems that professionals across sectors are working to prevent through local, state, and national efforts.

Perpetrators of sex trafficking often target and manipulate people who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe situation, or searching for a better life. For example, youth with a history of abuse and neglect or who are homeless are more likely to be exploited.

Consequences can be immediate and long term, including physical and relationship problems, psychological concerns, and chronic health outcomes

Evidence-based strategies exist to prevent types of violence, and they may also reduce sex trafficking.

What Communities Need to Know

State and local leaders, decision-makers, and groups can implement comprehensive efforts that:

  • Encourage healthy behaviors in relationships,
  • Foster safe homes and neighborhoods,
  • Reduce demand for commercial sex, and
  • End business profits from related transactions.

Violence prevention practitioners, researchers, and professionals can support these efforts. They can monitor trends, research risks and protective factors for sex trafficking, evaluate interventions, and implement strategies to stop sex trafficking based on best-available evidence.


Access the following resources to inform and guide actions to prevent sex trafficking. Incorporating this information and best practices into existing prevention efforts may help improve health and well-being in your community.

CDC Resources

Federal Resources

Additional Resources

Victim & Survivor Services

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