• Adult Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
  • Runaway & Homeless Youth Toolkit
  • Prevent Intimate Partner Violence
  • Violence Against Women Resource Library
  • Domestic Violence and Housing Technical Assistance Consortium
  • Domestic Violence Awareness Project
  • Building Comprehensive Solutions
  • National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

Dynamics of Minor Sex Trafficking

The ways in which young people trade sex and the people with whom they trade are very diverse. The most frequently described scenarios include survival sex, or trading sex for basic needs (Adler, 2003; Lutnick, 2013), and street-based sex trades, either pimp controlled or without a facilitator (Estes & Weiner, 2005; Weisberg, 1984; Lutnick, 2013). Although a diversity of people purchase sexual services from youth, most clients are men (Cates, 1989; Estes & Weiner, 2005). However, women, couples, and other young people are also clients (Adler, 2003; Lutnick, 2013). The frequency of interactions with clients varies significantly from one time trades to ongoing trades with regular clients (Adler, 2003; Cates, 1989). Payment forms can vary, yet most of the time young people receive money, drugs and/or shelter (Curtis, et al., 2008).

Facilitators and Pimps

Legally, a pimp is anyone who arranges clients for someone trading sex and/or benefits financially from someone else’s sexual services. Not all youth have a pimp or someone facilitating their involvement. However, young people of all genders frequently report that their peers and friends facilitate both their entry into the sex industry and connections to clients (Curtis, et al., 2008; Weisberg, 1984). Friends provide mentorship and guidance, and there is seemingly a strong ethos among certain groups of young people, especially those who are street-based and homeless, where they look out for one another. At times this means connecting a friend with a client, and other times this means giving a friend some of the money made for facilitating the sex trade (Curtis, et al., 2008). All of the above examples fit the definition of a pimp.

[S]he never, ever described him as her pimp. Like that, that wasn’t how she viewed him. But I do know that he was helping her arrange, you know, “dates” and getting a cut and then he would like take her and be security outside while the sex acts were being exchanged…But she never would have ever described him as a pimp…He was a friend that was helping her out…Not a boyfriend…Just a friend.  She had a girlfriend” (Lutnick, 2013).

One of the most thorough examinations of pimp involvement is found in Curtis,’s (2008) study with 249 young people in New York City. Eight percent of the sample reported that a pimp facilitated their entry into sex trades, with cisgender young women reporting the most pimp involvement compared to cisgender young men and transgender youth (16%, 1%, and 0%). As a reminder, cisgender is a term that refers to individuals who identify with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth (Schilt & Westbrook, 2009). But not all young people who get involved through a pimp stay connected with a pimp. In the same study they found that overtime, fewer cisgender young women were involved with a pimp (14%), more cisgender young men (3%), and transgender youth remained uninvolved with pimps. Among this sample, the main reason young people provided for leaving their pimp was that they tired of not being allowed to spend the money they earned.

Experiencing Violence

Regardless of the pathways into sex trades, violence can be an all too common experience for young people who trade sex (Lutnick, 2013). Violence is perpetrated by facilitators, clients, other youth, and law enforcement officials. For some young people their initial engagement with a facilitator is characterized as a romantic relationship and over time transitions to exploitative arrangements involving violence (Lutnick, 2013).

Other young people report that they experience violence more often from law enforcement officials than from clients (Torres & Paz, 2012). When asked about their experiences with police, young people sometimes report that they try to avoid them as they have been sexually assaulted by them in exchange for not being arrested (Curtis, et al., 2008; Gragg, et al., 2007).

“In the French Quarter [the police officer] asked what I was doing and I said I was waiting for friends. He got out of his car and asked to see my ID and then he say I looked like a suspect and asked if I had any weapons in my purse. Then he went through my purse and found the condoms then he started asking me how much I charge for a blow job. He said if I wanted to go free I had to give him a blow job because the condoms were reason enough to bring me in so I did it and he let me go” (McLemore, 2013).

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