Domestic Minor Familial Sex Trafficking:
A National Study of Prevalence, Characteristics, and Challenges across the Justice Process
Familial sex trafficking, similar to intrafamilial sexual abuse (incest), is an unspoken yet distinct form of abuse against children. Unlike other crimes that occur in public places, intrafamilial abuse usually occurs in private places, and the victims may try to hide evidence of it or deny that it took place.
The data for this study was derived from a national survey and in-depth interviews of justice professionals from 24 states, representing 3,505 cases of domestic minor sex trafficking during the period of 2018-2021, of which 917 cases were confirmed familial. Prevalence from this study suggests 26 percent of cases were family-facilitated, but justice professionals believe the number to be higher due to insufficient disclosure, lack of evidence, and how cases are recorded. Reports from individual states also suggest a higher prevalence. Other studies suggest as high as 47%.
This study aimed to determine the profile of children who are victims of domestic minor familial sex trafficking. Research indicates that pre-pubescent and adolescent females are the populations at greatest risk.
What makes domestic minor familial sex trafficking (FST) distinct from incest or domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) are two factors:
1 the presence of an economic exchange, and
2 the unique relationship between the victim and the perpetrator.
The most common perpetrator of familial trafficking in this study was—by wide margin—the child’s biological mother (60.29%). All respondents reported at least one case involving the biological mother of the victim as perpetrator.
An important distinction between incestuous child abuse and FST is the presence of an economic exchange, regardless of the form of commerce.
While children may be exploited in a range of venues, there is yet no distinct pattern or characteristic for where familial trafficking takes place.
For justice to have an opportunity, there must be a breach in the law and sufficient evidence to prove the offense. That is challenging in familial cases as there are a myriad of dynamics at play.