Sex-Trafficked Girls: What’s the Story in N.Y., Mich. and Minn.?

My article “Jailing Girls for Men’s Crimes” in the summer issue of Ms. cited a study revealing that hundreds of girls aged 17 and younger are sold for sex each month in Georgia. Well, the numbers are just in from a study of three other states: New York, Michigan and Minnesota. Sponsored by the Women’s Funding Network, the report documents high and increasing rates of commercial sexual exploitation of adolescent girls. The study tracked the sale of girls on the Internet and through escort services (although girls are also sold on the street and at hotels, which the study did not track).

Here are the numbers of sex-trafficked girls in May 2010 in these three states, and the increase over February 2010:

These numbers are shocking. To put them in perspective, the study compares the domestic sex trafficking of minors with other social problems such as teen suicide and cutting, breast cancer deaths and car accidents. Here are some sample comparisons:

  • In New York, more girls are commercially sexually exploited in one month (3,213) than the number of teens who committed suicide (54) or were hospitalized for self-inflicted injury (1,222) in one year or the number of women of all ages who died of breast cancer in a year (2,715).
  • In Michigan, more girls are commercially sexually exploited in one month (141) than there are women and girls under age 25 who were killed in car accidents in one year (106).
  • In Minnesota, more girls are commercially sexually exploited in one month (102) than there are teen girls who died by suicide, homicide and accidents combined in one year (29).

Other points of note in the study:

  • There is strong evidence that Native American girls are commercially sexually exploited at high rates in Minnesota.
  • On Super Bowl Sunday 2010, there were 80 percent more paid sex ads on Craigslist in New York than on the typical Sunday (and remember, the Super Bowl was in Miami).

But there’s some good news in the study as well: The rate of commercial sexual exploitation of girls in Georgia is down from 492 in February to 373 in May, a 24 percent decrease. Perhaps all the incredible activism in Georgia is paying off (get the new issue of Ms. to read more about that!).

This study is an important step toward gathering data to build a national picture of the scope of the commercial sexual exploitation of girls in the United States. The problem is clearly big and growing, but activism is growing too. Get involved.


  1. Organized crime will be on the increase here in the united states. No matter what the economy is like males will always find a way to acquire territory and resources.

    It could very well have been a mistake for us to direct the president to devote the Stimulus Package to women. I fear for what is to come in this country.

  2. I don't think that sex trafficking is so much on the rise as it is gaining more media attention. People are trafficked everyday worldwide. I don't think these states are very representative of how many people are trafficked. Traffickers tend to be in areas where tourists are and near borders. You might want to look at states like California, Florida, Texas, and Nevada… But really, it is everywhere. More people (but still not enough) are learning to spot this horrible crime. I also wish people would discuss other forms of trafficking just as much as they talk about sex trafficking and sweatshops…

    • I respectfully disagree. While I think increased attention is being paid to the issue, human trafficking of all kinds is driven by money, relative lack of barriers to business entry, and much lower risk of getting caught or convicted. It's laissez-faire economics at its worst, and its driving the explosion in trafficking.

      Uplift the survivors, educate ourselves, eliminate SLAVERY wherever it exists!

  3. I have to agree with Sara. I agree that trafficking is increasing but I think increased numbers as just as likely to be the cause of increased law enforcement awareness and public knowledge of the issue.

  4. I found the Michigan numbers appalling, but am not surprised, especially when considenrig the larger cities like Detroit. I have heard some stories of girls who got out of getting arrested for drug and prostitution crimes by giving sexual favors to the cops who caught them. Nothing was mentioned in the stories about whether or not the girl was being coerced by a pimp, but that component is one that needs to be dealt with.

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