Sexual exploitation is any exchange of sex acts for money, gifts, drugs, or basic needs (such as food and shelter), which can include sex trafficking and take the form of survival sex, prostitution, stripping, dancing, phone sex, web cams, and other forms of commercial trade sex.

The Federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (18 U.S.C. § 1591) defines the crime of sex trafficking as:

“The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act where such an 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.”

A commercial sex act is defined as any act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person, including:

• Prostitution (gang-based or not)
• Exotic dancing/Stripping
• Sex tourism
• Any transactional sex with a minor (under age 18)
• Pornography/web cam
• Erotic/nude massage

Who is at Risk for Commercial Sexual Exploitation?

Predators seek out those who are already vulnerable, making homeless youths and runaways prime targets. Individuals who are often marginalized by society—youth of color, LGBTQ youth, low-income young people—are also at increased risk.

Estimates show:

• The average age of entry into commercial exploitation is 12-14; many young adults become involved as minors.
• 90% of exploited youth have a prior history of abuse, neglect, and/or sexual trauma.
• Exploitation affects people of all genders.

How to Take Action

If you are a victim/survivor of sexual exploitation, or if you would like to get more information about sex trafficking, call our 24/7 Helpline at 1-855-757-7273 and request STEP services. You may also contact a STEP Advocate by email at