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What is Child Sex Trafficking & Exploitation?

By May 11, 2021Blog

When someone thinks of child sex trafficking and exploitation, it is fairly common to think of an anonymous stranger luring a child into a van and sending him or her to perform sex acts in other areas of the country. However, this dramatic scene is not what we typically see when working with young people who have been trafficked.

Child sex trafficking and exploitation is when a child under the age of 18 is involved in a commercial sex act or where sex, sexual images, or videos are traded for money, food, shelter, drugs, or anything else of value. We use the acronym “CSEC,” for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. These types of cases occur all over the United States—and Maine is no exception. A foundational element of CSEC is that even if the child believes it was his or her choice, she or he is a victim, and an adult or perpetrator is exploiting her or his vulnerabilities. A child cannot consent to sex with an adult.

Due to the increase in CSEC cases in Maine, the Cumberland County Children’s Advocacy Center (CCCAC), which is co-facilitated by and housed at Spurwink’s Center for Safe and Healthy Families, now employs a CSEC Case Coordinator to help facilitate and coordinate these challenging and complicated cases. The CSEC Coordinator brings together a multidisciplinary team of professionals to coordinate a plan of action for the youth involved.   The team includes, but is not limited to, law enforcement, juvenile prosecution, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), medical providers, schoolteachers and staff, and advocacy members. A multidisciplinary team is necessary because sexually exploited youth have a variety of needs that no one agency or discipline can meet. This team response ensures that each child will have access to the programs and services of the CCCAC/CSEC partnership.

During a conference call, each team member will share what he or she know about the trafficking and/or exploitation concerns, including (if known) the level of youth’s involvement, nature of recruitment, connection to the perpetrator, and stage of recovery. These cases are quite complicated for a variety of reasons. For example, children frequently do not reveal their victimization because they are being manipulated by a trafficker who has physical and psychological control over them, or out shame and guilt that they might feel as a result of their exploitation.

The call will include risk assessment and result in “action steps” in the following areas:

  • Housing or placement;
  • Interpersonal support;
  • Mental health care;
  • Medical/health care; and
  • Criminal investigation of the alleged perpetrator.

Follow-up steps in each area will be articulated and a member of the CSEC team will be identified as the person responsible for executing these steps. The CSEC Case Coordinator will facilitate ongoing communication among the team. Team members communicate updates or changes to the multidisciplinary team plan or will contact the CSEC Case Coordinator directly.

It is important for parents and professionals to know what warning signs and red flags may look like when it comes to these cases. Any youth who discloses or raises concern that she or he may be trading sex for shelter, food, money, drugs, clothing, or anything of value is worrisome. Risk factors or signs may include:

  • Frequent running away;
  • New clothes or accessories with no explanation;
  • Association with a known pimp;
  • Being found in physical location or on a website known for commercial sexual activity; or
  • Having scars or “branding” (i.e. tattoos/pimps name).

The team works hard to ensure that no child is further victimized by the system, streamline discussions, and coordinate proper communication and coordination.  This coordinated response also helps ensure offenders are held accountable for their behaviors and actions.

If you have questions about the CSEC program or have concerns about an at-risk youth, please contact Spurwink’s CSEC Coordinator at 207-879-6160.

Spurwink’s CSEC program, Project NOW: Ending Youth Exploitation, was made possible through the support of Jane’s Trust, the United Way of Greater Portland, the Maine Community Foundation, MECASA, the National Children’s Alliance, and Maine Women’s Fund. If you would like to help support the program, please contact Gabrielle Gallucci, Director of Mission Impact at