Children & Youth



The Problem

Every year, children and youth are compelled into labor and sex trafficking in the United States and globally. The trauma experienced from trafficking can have a profound impact on the lives of youth, decreasing mental health, challenging self-identity, and affecting personal development. Children are trafficked by caregivers, intimate partners, or others who use violence, threats, debt bondage, and other manipulative tactics to victimize children.

Young people who have faced prior abuse, escaped civil conflict, lost their homes, fled broken child protection systems, or lack strong social support systems are at greater risk for recruitment by traffickers who unscrupulously exploit their vulnerabilities or circumstances. In addition, trafficked youth who have been compelled to engage in illegal activities, including prostitution or the selling of drugs, are too often arrested and prosecuted as criminals.


The Solution

All organizations and programs serving youth must be competent in understanding and identifying human trafficking. Often, child welfare agencies are in contact with young victims of human trafficking, but due to a lack of awareness, do not identify them in this way. Child welfare, juvenile justice, runaway and homeless youth, and community-based youth programs must develop sustainable training plans for staff on trauma-informed identification and engagement with trafficked youth and build formal organizational policies and protocols to guide services, referrals, and care coordination.

In addition, states should pass “Safe Harbor” laws to ensure that child victims are treated as victims, not as criminals. These laws should make exploited minors under 18 immune from prosecution from certain offenses, including prostitution, and ensure they receive services instead of a criminal conviction.

Our Work In Action

Polaris works to strengthen community responses so that all trafficked youth have access to the specialized, trauma-informed services needed to feel safe and rebuild their lives. Polaris partners with service providers, law enforcement, and government agencies across the United States to provide training and skills-building opportunities, share promising practices, and strengthen referral networks.

Polaris also works closely with the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking and the National Network for Youth to support federal and state legislative efforts that increase protections for youth. We advocate for increased protections and legal remedies for youth, including state Safe Harbor laws, options to vacate convictions, and increased victim assistance.

Photo credit: iStock


New Jersey Training Partnership

Since the implementation of a training curriculum in New Jersey, the number of youth identified as trafficking survivors by the NJ Department of Children and Families has increased, leading to enhanced services and care coordination.