The map identifies potential trafficking locations in the United States, according to data compiled by nonprofit the Polaris Project, with the red areas indicating the highest concentration of human trafficking. (Courtesy Polaris Project)

The map identifies potential trafficking locations in the United States, according to data compiled by nonprofit the Polaris Project, with the red areas indicating the highest concentration of human trafficking. (Courtesy Polaris Project)

The $150 billion a year industry that is killing our children

By Christopher Dolan and Dianna Albini

“It ought to concern every person, because of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name — modern slavery.”

— President Barack Obama,

Sept. 25, 2012

The most common forms of human trafficking are sex trafficking, forced labor and debt bondage. While any form of human trafficking is reprehensible and deserves attention, the focus of this article will be sexually exploited children. This is a difficult and uncomfortable topic, but denial and silence is killing and permanently harming our children.

Sexual exploitation of children by force, fraud, or coercion in the United States is misunderstood. Many believe it happens in other countries, not right before our eyes in the United States.

The reality is that human trafficking is modern slavery that happens everywhere, affects every race and crosses all social classes, and is woefully underreported because the victims are not visible. Sex-trafficked children are often “reused” for rape sometimes more than 12 times a day. The United States Department of State documented a case of one child being raped more than one thousand times.

Not until 2003 did the first state, Washington, criminalized human trafficking. Despite federal and state legislation in ensuing years, the sex trafficking serpent has continued to proliferate at an alarming rate.

The latest federal law, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017, takes the important step of broadening the accountability net, providing an instrument to cut the head off the serpent and eventually put an end to this violence and abuse. Now, “facilitators” financially benefitting or receiving anything of value from participation in a venture which has engaged in sex trafficking can be held civilly and criminally responsible. Examples include truck stops, hotels, and social media advertisers receiving money through the sale of goods or services, leasing real estate or renting hotel and motel rooms. It is important that customers of these businesses keep an eye out and report to law enforcement any behavior or circumstances suggesting the presence of sex trafficking (see Red Flag Warnings, below).


1.6 Million homeless children on the streets at any one time, many having run away or been abducted. A large proportion of these children are victims of neglect or physical or sexual abuse.

• 1.5 Million sex-trafficked victims in the United States.

• 35.7 percent rise in sex trafficking in the United States between 2015 and 2016.

• 14 & 10 percent of girls and boys, respectively, under age 18 bought and sold every year and sexually violated.

• The average age of commercially sex trafficked children is 11-14 years.

• 58 percent of LGBTQ homeless children are sexually exploited annually.

• $650,000 is the potential annual earnings of sex trafficker violating as little as four children.

• 300,000 United States children at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation annually.

• 7 years is the average child’s life span beginning on the first day they are exploited (from all causes including suicide, physical violence, disease, malnutrition, and overdose)


• Lot Lizards: Commercially sexually exploited victims brought in droves to nationwide truck stops and sexually exploited.

• Facilitators: Legitimate businesses such as hotels, airlines, bus and rail companies, advertisers like, alternative newspapers, banks and other financial services companies, truck stops, landlords, social media including Facebook and Twitter, bars, strip clubs, massage parlors, escort services, and on and on and on.

• Quota: Amount often set between $300 and $2,000 a trafficking victim must make each night before she/he can go “home.”

• Leash: Narcotics, typically heroin and meth, used to control victims.


• Physical Appearance — Injuries/signs of abuse such as burn marks, bruises, cuts, or unhealthy thinness; tattoo(s) displaying a man’s name, symbol of money, or barcode; sexualized behavior; provocative dress considering age group and/or weather conditions.

• Possessions — Very few personal possessions, no identification, multiple hotel keys or key cards, prepaid cell phone.

• Behavior — Talk about an older boyfriend, sex with an older man, making lots of money and/or wild parties; claims of being an adult; stories that do not add up; fear of authority figures; withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out affect.

• Unusual Circumstances — Twenty girls in one hotel room; groups of children outside trucks stopped at truck stops; multiple children living in a home with boarded up windows and numerous cars where the children are rarely seen.

If you see something, DO something! You just might save a life.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions and topics for future articles to

We serve clients across the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Our work is no recovery, no fee or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.

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