Commercial Sex Trafficking

Commercial sex trafficking is the recruiting, harboring, transporting, obtaining, or providing of a person for sexual purposes. Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to attract, control, and keep their victims in the abusive trafficking dynamic. Vulnerable people are often “groomed” by traffickers who initially pretend to be romantically interested in them, and then force them to perform sex acts for profit.

Sexual exploitation (or sex exploitation) is the exploitative exchange of sex or sexual acts for shelter, drugs, food, protection, or other life needs. While sexual exploitation is not illegal, many people who find themselves in a sexually exploitative situation engage in sexual acts under duress and out of desperation. Sexually exploitative sex is often called “survival sex.” 

There are some distinct similarities and differences between commercial sex trafficking and domestic abuse. Sex trafficking generally involves multiple actors, while domestic abuse generally involves one abuser. Unlike domestic violence, trafficking specifically exploits poverty in vulnerable people and does not rely on an intimate partner relationship.

While domestic violence and sex trafficking represent different forms of violence and victimization, there are also similarities between these types of violence. For example, both abusive people and traffickers use power and control in order to dominate and manipulate their victims. Traffickers also tend to use similar tactics with their victims, including (but not limited to): isolation; physical and emotional violence; financial abuse; threats against family members and friends; and withholding food, sleep, and medical care. And some abusive people traffic or sexually exploit their partners, as part of their pattern of coercive and controlling behavior.

Because trafficking survivors often experience multiple forms of victimization, including domestic violence, it is not uncommon for them to seek services at domestic violence resource centers.

MCEDV is committed to working collaboratively to support survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in Maine. According to the Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network, there are 200-300 cases of sex trafficking in the state annually. Instances of sex trafficking are often hard to identify. Survivors are often reluctant to name sex trafficking as their source of victimization. The estimate above represents the number of identifiable sex trafficking cases; there are undoubtedly more that fly under the radar.

Domestic violence resource centers around the state have been providing services for sex trafficking survivors for years, but because victims don’t always name their experiences as trafficking, advocates have not always been able to identify them as such. As understanding about sex trafficking has grown, MCEDV has been working with our member advocates and other anti-trafficking partners to enhance the identification, response, and services provided to address the complex needs of sex trafficking victims and survivors.

Advocates at our member resource centers are engaged in anti-trafficking work in a variety of ways:

  • The Domestic Violence Resource Centers provide shelter, legal advocacy, safety planning, and case management for trafficking survivors seeking support. In 2016, 127 identified victims of commercial sex trafficking accessed help through our members. That same year, 23 trafficking survivors were sheltered by our members, and 27 received support through court advocacy.
  • In 2018, Maine’s first emergency shelter for sex trafficking and sex exploitation victims opened in Lewiston. Advocates at Safe Voices, our Lewiston-based Domestic Violence Resource Center, manage the house, providing 24-hour coverage, case management, and programming for the residents in collaboration with their partners at Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.
  • Domestic violence advocates sit on the five regional anti-trafficking multidisciplinary teams and play a crucial role in the regional response to trafficking cases.

MCEDV also collaborates with partners across the state working to address trafficking:

  • MCEDV staff sits on the Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Work Group.
  • MCEDV staff sits on the Maine Sex Trafficking & Sex Exploitation Provider Council.
  • MCEDV staff regularly attends and provides support for the regional anti-trafficking multidisciplinary teams across the state.
  • MCEDV is a member of the Steering Committee for the Preble Street Anti-Trafficking Coalition.
  • MCEDV holds the contract for the state’s first emergency shelter for victims of sex trafficking and sex exploitation.