The prevalence of sex trafficking of children and adolescents in the United States: A scoping review

Hannabeth Franchino-Olsen*, Brittney R. Chesworth, Colleen Boyle, Cynthia Fraga Rizo, Sandra L. Martin, Brooke Jordan, Rebecca J. Macy, Lily Stevens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Topic: This scoping review investigated research regarding the magnitude of minor sex trafficking (domestic minor sex trafficking and/or commercial sexual exploitation of children) in the United States, summarizing estimates, methodologies, and strengths and weaknesses of the studies.

Method: Using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, peer-reviewed articles and the gray literature were accessed via databases searches, reference harvesting, and expert advice. Articles were included if they provided a count or prevalence proportion estimate of trafficked or at-risk minors across or within a region of the United States. Six empirical studies, published from 1999 to 2017, were included in the review.

Results: Included studies produced count estimates (n = 3) or prevalence proportion estimates (n = 3) for youth at risk of minor sex trafficking (n = 2) or reporting victimization (n = 5). Studies examined sex trafficking risk and victimization in different geographical areas, including across the United States (n = 2), in New York City (n = 1), and in Ohio (n = 1). Further, several studies focused on particular populations, such as street and shelter youths (n = 1) and adjudicated males (n = 1). Sampling methodologies of reviewed estimates included traditional random sampling (n = 1), nationally representative sampling (n = 2), convenience sampling (n = 1), respondent-driven sampling (n = 1), purposive sampling (n = 1), and use of census data (n = 2).

Conclusion: Little research has estimated the prevalence of minor sex trafficking in the United States. The existing studies examine different areas and populations and use different categories to estimate the problem. The estimates reviewed here should be cited cautiously. Future research is needed on this important topic, including methodologies to produce more representative estimates of this hard-to-reach population.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalTrauma, Violence, and Abuse
Early online date26 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Jun 2020


  • at risk
  • commercial sexual exploitation of children
  • domestic minor sex trafficking
  • estimate
  • magnitude
  • minor sex trafficking
  • survivor
  • United States
  • victim


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