In 2020, nearly 17,000 people were reported victims of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking in the United States, though experts estimate the number would be higher if more people knew what to look for. Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) can be even harder to identify, as it so often involves exploitation by an adult who knows the child.
A collaboration between the Tompkins County CSEC Critical Team and Students Against the Sexual Solicitation of Youth (SASSY), a student-run program of the David M. Einhorn Center for Community Engagement, targeted the local lodging industry for outreach efforts to raise awareness about CSEC and trafficking.
Bridgette Nugent, deputy director of Tompkins County Youth Services (TCYS) and the county’s Safe Harbour coordinator of the CSEC Critical Team, explained that local CSEC often takes the form of an adult exploiting a homeless youth in exchange for food or housing, or family members selling sexual access to their children. Most local victims of CSEC are U.S. citizens.
“Some of the red flags to look out for are homelessness or chronic running away, the presence of an older boyfriend or girlfriend, a youth who suddenly has a new phone, new clothing or jewelry — things they wouldn’t normally have access to,” Nugent said. “It can also present as a controlling relationship with indications of physical abuse.”