Internet Based

"I was first forced into prostitution when I was 11 years old by a 28-year-old man. I am not an exception. The man who trafficked me sold so many girls my age, his house was called "Daddy Day Care." All day, other girls and I sat with our laptops, posting pictures and answering ads on Craigslist. He made $1,500 a night selling my body, dragging me to Los Angeles, Houston, Little Rock -- and one trip to Las Vegas in the trunk of a car. I am 17 now, and my childhood memories aren't of my family, going to middle school, or dancing at the prom. They are of making my own arrangements on Craigslist to be sold for sex, and answering as many ads as possible for fear of beatings and ice water baths.”

– An Open Letter from MC to Craigslist.

The internet has been identified as the number one platform that pimps, traffickers, and johns use for buying and selling women and children for sex in the United States.

The internet has been identified as the number one platform that pimps, traffickers and johns currently use for buying and selling women and children for sex in the United States.  Victims trafficked through pimp-controlled sex trafficking, escort services, in-call and out-call services, chat rooms, pornography, and brothels disguised as massage businesses are commonly marketed on websites such as,, and others.  Individuals advertised online for commercial sex are often made to appear that they are working independently, when in fact they are victims of sex trafficking more often than is recognized or understood.

A teacher became concerned after one of her 14-year-old students failed to show up to classes for several weeks. The teacher spoke with several of the student's high school friends who indicated that the student had an older boyfriend who sometimes picked her up from school.  The friends also directed the teacher to multiple postings advertising the student for commercial sex on,, and a local dating website. The teacher noticed that several ads featuring different young girls listed the same phone number, and she suspected that this number belonged to a pimp. The teacher reported the information to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline after spe

aking with the student's father, who indicated that the student had recently run away and was believed to be staying with her boyfriend. The NHTRC connected the father and the teacher with a specialized task force who began investigation into the case. 

*Based on calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.  Identifying details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

When does it become trafficking?

Pimps use online classified ads to sell women and girls who they have forced or coerced into the sex industry.

Sex trafficking occurs when the pimp or trafficker uses force, fraud, and/or coercion to maintain control over an adult and cause him or her to engage in commercial sex acts.  When the individual providing commercial sex is under the age of 18, force, fraud, and coercion do not need to be present for the situation to be considered trafficking.  Common means of control for this type of sex trafficking include:

Force – Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to a residence; restrictions on movement, and communication to family and friends.

Fraud – False promises of a better life through the trafficker presenting as a boyfriend or caretaker figure; convincing the victim that law enforcement/service providers will only see the victim as a "prostitute" and will arrest and not assist the victim.

Coercion – Threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community; verbal, psychological and emotional abuse; nightly quotas; confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents; forced dependency on the pimp or controller; exploitation of victims’ shame or low self-esteem; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers; cycle of rewards and punishments; threats of deportation if victim is a foreign national.

*The above list is not comprehensive or cumulative.  One element of force, fraud or coercion may be present, or many.

Unique Characteristics of Trafficking via the Internet

Code Language – Traffickers often disguise the age of minor victims of sex trafficking in advertisements.  A 15 year old might be listed as 19 or 20 or simply as “young,” to avoid detection from police.  In some cases, traffickers find ways to indicate that commercial sex can occur without explicitly stating it.  In other cases, traffickers may use the photo of an adult in the online ad, and then send the minor to the buyer who called about the ad.

Anyone Can Post – Ads which appear to be posted by an individual who is independently in the sex trade are often created by, or under the direction of, traffickers.  Traffickers often disguise themselves as the person in the ad when communicating with johns via the internet, text, or phone calls.

High Volume – While some websites try to screen ads for trafficking, this is made difficult by the sheer volume of ads as well as the difficulty of knowing if the person advertising is independently in the sex trade or under a pimp or trafficker.

Statistics Snapshot

  • When the U.S. Craigslist Adult Services Section was available, there were 10-16,000 adult services postings/day in the U.S. alone.  This was estimated at 40 percent of the total online sex ads in the U.S. each day at the time.
  • Law enforcement across the U.S. have identified online sex ads as the number one platform for the buying and selling of sex with children and young women.
  • An FBI investigation found that more than 2,800 ads of prostituted children were posted on Craigslist in 2008 alone.

For more resources on sex trafficking, click here

National Human Trafficking Resource Center National Human Trafficking Resource Center Report Human Trafficking Access Trainings Human Trafficking Information & Resources

Client Quotes

"Thanks to Polaris Project, I have a job, a home, and many friends that help me when I need it. I am making a life of my own."


- Survivor of Labor Trafficking & Client of Polaris