Street Prostitution

“Throughout the U.S., girls are being bought and sold by adults to adults. Girls are sold on the streets, in strip-clubs, brothels, truck-stops and with increasing frequency on internet sites like Craigslist and Backpage.”

– Rachel Lloyd, Founder and Executive Director, GEMS.

Victims of forced street prostitution are particularly vulnerable to arrest for indecent exposure or prostitution from their visibility on the streets.

Human trafficking victims are often found in street prostitution where they are forced to provide commercial sexual services by a controller or “pimp.”  Pimps force adults and minors to sell commercial sex on the streets by means of physical abuse, threats, lies, manipulation, and false promises.  Victims are often expected to earn a nightly quota, ranging from $500 to $1000 or more, all confiscated by the pimp.  Victims are typically U.S. citizens, including adults, girls, boys, and transgender youth.  Although less common, immigrants may also be victimized.

Victims are expected to earn a nightly quota, ranging from $500 to $1000 or more, all confiscated by the pimp.

A service provider began working with a 16-year-old girl who had recently been removed from a situation of pimp-controlled sex trafficking. The girl had been with the same pimp since she was 14 years old. The pimp controlled several underage girls, and he forced them to prostitute on a two block area. The pimp used cell phones to monitor the girls, and watched them from a car while they solicited johns.  A 19-year-old young woman, who had been recruited by the pimp when she was 15, assisted the pimp with monitoring and recruiting the young girls.  Previously the 16-year-old had been arrested for solicitation, but her pimp always paid her bail and she would return to him.  Recently, she had again been arrested, but this time she disclosed information about the pimp, and was referred to a shelter facility for services.

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

When does it become trafficking?

Street prostitution becomes trafficking when a pimp uses force, fraud and/or coercion to maintain control over the person providing commercial sexual services and cause the person to engage in commercial sex acts.  An individual engaged in street prostitution under the age of 18 is considered a victim of sex trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.  Common means of control include:

Force – Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to the 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.

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; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers; cycle of rewards and punishments; convincing the victim that police/service providers will only see the victim as a "prostitute" and will arrest and not assist the victim; 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.


Violence and Assault – Victims of street prostitution are particularly vulnerable to violence and assault from "johns." Although victims of sex trafficking in street prostitution are commonly monitored by a controller or “pimp”, the controller is often less visible and therefore more difficult for police to investigate.  Typically, individuals victimized by this network are also trained to lie to police and service providers about the existence of a pimp, and they may present themselves as independently in prostitution. 

Social Stigma – The negative social stigma attached to prostitution is commonly exploited by traffickers in order to prevent victims from revealing the ways in which they are being abused and hurt.  Survivors of street prostitution recount instances where family or the public treated them differently, limiting their ability to find help and access services in a non-judgmental environment.

Glorification of Pimps
- Pop culture glamorizes pimps in music, movies, and video games that are directly marketed towards youth.  Such representations hide the violent and abusive nature of pimping, and often fail to describe the ways in which pimps engage in behaviors that meet the very definitions of human trafficking.  

Statistics Snapshot

  • Estimated number of men, victims must have sex with daily: 1 – 15 men daily
  • Standard quota per night: $500 to $1,000 or more per night
  • Minors as young as 12 years old are recruited into prostitution in thse United States

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