Characteristics of child commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking victims presenting for medical care in the United States

Child Abuse Negl. 2015 Jun;44:98-105. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2015.04.004. Epub 2015 Apr 18.


The objective of the study is to describe distinguishing characteristics of commercial sexual exploitation of children/child sex trafficking victims (CSEC) who present for health care in the pediatric setting. This is a retrospective study of patients aged 12-18 years who presented to any of three pediatric emergency departments or one child protection clinic, and who were identified as suspected victims of CSEC. The sample was compared with gender and age-matched patients with allegations of child sexual abuse/sexual assault (CSA) without evidence of CSEC on variables related to demographics, medical and reproductive history, high-risk behavior, injury history and exam findings. There were 84 study participants, 27 in the CSEC group and 57 in the CSA group. Average age was 15.7 years for CSEC patients and 15.2 years for CSA patients; 100% of the CSEC and 94.6% of the CSA patients were female. The two groups significantly differed in 11 evaluated areas with the CSEC patients more likely to have had experiences with violence, substance use, running away from home, and involvement with child protective services and/or law enforcement. CSEC patients also had a longer history of sexual activity. Adolescent CSEC victims differ from sexual abuse victims without evidence of CSEC in their reproductive history, high risk behavior, involvement with authorities, and history of violence.

Keywords: Child prostitution; Child sex trafficking; Commercial sexual exploitation of children; Human trafficking.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / diagnosis*
  • Child Protective Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Crime Victims
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Exposure to Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Homeless Youth / statistics & numerical data
  • Human Trafficking*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Work*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • United States
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnosis