Recognizing and Addressing the Needs of Sex Trafficking Victims

Deborah Jacks Camak, MSN, RNC-MNN, FCN, C-EFM


Online J Issues Nurs. 2022;27(2) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Sex trafficking is a global crime enslaving persons of all ages and across all borders, and providers can be challenged to locate and recognize victims. Trafficked victims present with varied and complex healthcare needs requiring unique and tailored interventions. This investigative project sought to situate the existing literature with experiences described by professionals who work with trafficking survivors. Findings from the report indicate that many survivors report seeking care and receiving treatment from nurses while trafficked yet failing to be identified by nurses or other healthcare providers as a trafficking victim. This article addresses the scope of sex trafficking, indicators used to recognize victims of sex trafficking, the critical need for nursing to be knowledgeable of sex trafficking, and concludes with a discussion of nurses' responsibility to address victims' diverse needs.


Human trafficking of adults and children is often described as modern-day slavery. Human trafficking law is categorized three ways: labor trafficking, child sex trafficking, and adult sex trafficking. Most victims are female although approximately one third to one fourth are male (Polaris, 2018). According to Raney (2017), "The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons" estimates that 27% of all victims detected globally are children and one in three victims are boys.

Human trafficking is a crime that historically has been overlooked and more recently has garnered the attention of law enforcement and human rights advocates (U.S. Department of Justice, 2021). Globally, there are approximately 24.9 million victims of human trafficking (U.S. Department of State, 2019). Experts estimate that human trafficking produces approximately 150 billion dollars a year with $99 billion earned from sexual exploitation alone (Human Rights First, 2017a). According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC] (2009), approximately 79% of human trafficking victims are sexually trafficked. Sex trafficking crosses age, gender, and global boundaries.

The United States Federal Anti-Trafficking Laws defines sex trafficking as, "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex 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" (Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking[ATEST], 2017).

Anti-Trafficking Laws define sex trafficking comprising three components of action, means, and purpose. Action is recruiting, harboring, providing, or soliciting. Means include use of force, fraud, or coercion. Purpose is identified as a commercial sex act. However, for a victim younger than 18 years of age, sex trafficking is a crime regardless of how the victim was manipulated or recruited, and therefore, the use of force, fraud, or coercion is not a requirement for the crime.